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Mark Newey



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Return to work: why mental wellness must be a priority for organisations

As we exit lockdown and re-enter the workplace, companies must make mental wellbeing a priority.

The roadmap out of lockdown has been revealed and it’s a step in the right direction – but how are employees feeling? Many may be concerned about their children going back to school, and how will they manage work if they need to self-isolate. Others may be worrying about coming off furlough and heading back to the office for a while. How will they manage their anxiety in the workplace and feelings of resentment from colleagues who held the fort during their absence?

Our time in lockdown may be coming to a close, but the after effects will be felt for a long time. 

It’s a tricky time for us all, not least for employers who must find appropriate ways to manage employees’ mental wellbeing whilst trying to maintain productivity levels. This cannot to be a box-ticking exercise – it’s too serious an issue.

Developing a strategy to support the mental wellbeing of employees is essential. The basis of any mental wellbeing strategy is based on three platforms:

  • An open and genuine message ‘from the top’, saying that the company is taking the mental health of its employees seriously and will support them as necessary.
  • From that message, starting to build a corporate culture of encouraging a conversation about mental health issues and reducing the stigma that has been associated with it.
  • Embarking on a programme of mental wellness education to help employees thrive as they return.

Opening lines of communication

The first step of any mental wellness education strategy should be practical advice on managing mental health as employees return. In the current uncertain circumstances, a lot of the education needs to focus on anxiety and how to deal with it. That means understanding that anxiety in abnormal circumstances is in fact normal. It’s your system operating correctly – we should be anxious in these situations. We then need to accept the anxiety, not try to avoid it, because you can’t. Learning to focus on breathing is key to dealing with anxiety. 

The next step is to encourage employees to be confident that they will be fine as they get used to the new circumstances. Humans are masters at adapting – it’s one of the reasons our species has survived as long as it has! At the beginning of the first lockdown, anxiety levels skyrocketed, but after a month they came back down again, albeit above ‘normal’ levels.

Remind your employees that they’re not the only one feeling anxious – everybody has struggled in lockdown. Having mental health issues has never something to be ashamed of, and especially not now. They can be open about struggling with any anxiety and they don’t have to ignore it or push it down. They can talk about it with their colleagues and share it. It’ll be so helpful to hear others own up too.

They should be encouraged not to put themselves under pressure to get work finished too quickly or to work crazy hours to catch up – they should ease themselves back in. They need to build a routine to their day as quickly as possible. Human beings thrive on order and certainty and having a routine means your mind automatically knows what comes next and what to expect.

Empowering individuals

Right now is the time to make employee mental wellness a priority within the organisation. Mental wellness will empower individuals to look after their own mental health and deal with the grenades life throws at them without it spiraling into a loop of toxic thinking, which is the inevitable outcome of unresolved stress, anxiety and depression.

The outcome for the employer could be no less than a complete transformation in its wellbeing culture, the final outcome of which is more sales and more profit.

The changes will fall into the following three groups:

  • A dramatic improvement in relationships
    Happier staff means not only a more enjoyable working environment, but the learning and personal growth that comes with mental wellness education means closer collaboration amongst colleagues, more teamwork, greater motivation, loyalty and ultimately much greater productivity.
  • A dramatic decline in staff management problems
    When staff are happier in their work, there will be less conflict, less absenteeism, less presenteeism, less sickness, a lower rate of attrition and reduced recruitment costs.
  • A dramatic increase in efficiency and productivity
    Staff with mental wellness will think more clearly, make better decisions, complete tasks quicker and more accurately, meaning that meetings will be quicker and more decisive. Staff cognitive capacity will be increased and productivity will be transformed.

Study after study shows that even a small investment in employee mental wellness will pay itself back many times over, leading ultimately to increased profitability. Our time in lockdown may be coming to a close, but the after effects will be felt for a long time. Employers must use this time as we return to work to reach out to employees and ensure that the foundations for positive communication around mental health are put in place.

Interested in this topic? Read The psychological pandemic: an opportunity for employers to aid recovery.

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Mark Newey


Read more from Mark Newey

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