This Mental Health Awareness Week (9th- 15th May), we spoke to industry experts about how to best support employees and cultivate a culture of care
An alarming 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace and this figure is only increasing. The last two years have put a huge amount of stress on employers and employees alike, who have had to navigate remote working, staff shortages, and monumental changes to working life. It has never been more important to raise awareness as to what support is out there.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke to nine business leaders to see how they are tackling this crisis and learn their advice for building a culture of care.
Creating a safe space
Starting from the ground up and ensuring your workplace is an open environment, where people feel comfortable sharing, is key.
Kathryn Barnes, Employment Counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners, said: “Employers should create opportunities for open dialogues that enable workers to be forthright about their concerns or challenges, without fear of retribution, adopting a more person-centric approach to managing the health and well-being of their workforces. In doing so, they will have to rethink how they manage people and support them to reset the boundaries between home and work.”
Meanwhile, Fluent Commerce creates a safe space in the workforce, encouraging transparency and sharing. “Weekly Q&A sessions enable our team to raise work-related issues they’re concerned about,” said Rob Shaw, SVP Global Sales at Fluent Commerce. “Cultivating a culture of care requires open discussions with the policies to back this up.”
Training is key
Training is also a valuable tool for equipping the workforce with the right skillsets to better understand the complexities of mental health.
Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal, added: “A key first step should be providing training for line managers, helping them identify the potential causes and signs of stress and effectively manage workloads to ensure that staff are not overwhelmed. Touching base with employees is an easy way to help reduce any feelings of isolation or built up worries. Stress management training, that gives all staff the tools and techniques they need to help deal with stress, will also be beneficial as the workplace continues to evolve.”
Observing what other organisations are doing for their employees well-being can be incredibly helpful as inspiration for what can be implemented in your own workplace.
“In early 2019 we trained a number of our people as Mental Health First Aiders, who now voluntarily undertake the additional role of supporting our team members in times of need and guiding them towards appropriate resources,” said Simon Crawley-Trice, CEO at Six Degrees. “They also host several initiatives across the business for both our employees and their line managers; raising awareness of the impact stress can have on an individual, providing them with tools that can support the management of stress and guiding leaders on successfully reducing stress within their teams.”
Flexible working and work life balance
Well-being doesn’t just revolve around initiatives in the workplace but also relates to the very structure of work. Flexible working is in demand now more than ever, enabling workers to sustain a healthy work life balance.
Jen Lawrence, CPO at Tax Systems, said: “Flexible working is ingrained in the Tax Systems culture. It’s one thing to say that you offer it as an organisation but it’s something else when you know people are actually making use of it – that they are going to their afternoon gym class, or late lunching with friends; walking their dog mid-afternoon or doing the school run – whatever it is, our vibrant working approach is there for everyone, regardless of justification. We all have lives and we all experience moments of stress, so having time for the small things often makes a big difference. By trusting our team and showing understanding and empathy, we have employees who are happy, motivated and committed”.
Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer at Totalmobile, agreed: “Businesses can improve their employees’ quality of life both in and outside of work by implementing hybrid or flexible working policies. Data from the 2021 Census revealed that 85% of employees currently working from home wanted to have a hybrid approach in future where they can work both from home and in the office. The findings also showed that ‘improved staff well-being’ was the main reason for businesses planning to make remote working a permanent part of their company policies.”
Mental health in cybersecurity
It goes without saying that all workplaces come with their different stresses and pressures, whatever the industry.
“The lightning-fast pace of cybersecurity naturally creates a high-stress environment,” said Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA at Exabeam. “For some, this is part of the attraction to the industry, the intensity can cultivate a sense of excitement, adrenaline and constant change. However, there’s a fine line between ‘good’ stress and ‘bad’ stress that leads to burnout – and it’s not always easy to realise when you’ve moved from one to the other”.
“To call the events of the last two years stressful is nothing short of an understatement,” added Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK. “People in many professions navigated their way through unforeseen and difficult circumstances, which has inevitably taken its toll. This includes those in the IT industry, who have lived through constant change; with pressure to enable and support hybrid and remote working and to keep businesses up and running no matter what. It is no surprise that finding time to look after mental health too often dropped down the priority list”.
For these reasons alone organisations need to move forwards, looking through a more empathic and caring lens. Change is certainly overdue but that doesn’t mean a great overhaul needs to happen overnight.
Dave Birchall, Chief People Officer at Node4, concludes: “Small acts can make a big difference. Whether it is a regular coffee morning for people to connect and catch up, encouraging employees to take regular breaks or more structured support, such as providing tips and techniques to help manage stress or access to professional support services.”
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