Mental health has become an increasingly discussed topic in recent years and many surveys have shown a deterioration in mental health since the beginning of the Covid 19 global pandemic. This has led to many changes in work practice which can be unsettling for employees.
When the pandemic began in early 2020, I followed the early development of the pandemic in China and the far east. As a vet, I was trained in epidemiology and infectious diseases and I could see fairly early on that there was likely to be major disruption to our lives. My own company went into lockdown in early March a couple of weeks before the British government instigated its own lockdown. It was obvious that the government was floundering; lacking leadership and sending out mixed, confusing communications. This was intensely worrying for the public. Meanwhile, the senior leadership at The Webinar Vet had sent everyone home; helped them to set up high speed broadband and set about helping the veterinary profession during the crisis. In times of crisis, it is important for leadership to create a safe, calm, secure environment for employees so that they do not worry about physical or mental health. By sending a worried team home early we were able to improve mental health and keep them physically safe also.
When change is happening very quickly, as has happened with the Covid-induced digital transformation of the last two years, it is important to communicate changes clearly and quickly and also give adequate training on new procedures and software etc. Using Zoom properly at the beginning of the pandemic even caught the British cabinet office out!
Outside of these unusual times it is important to remember that mental health is primarily the responsibility of the individual. How active the person is; how much alcohol the person drinks and what the quality of their diet is like are all important factors that will likely affect both physical and mental health which are closely linked.
However, the employer also has a responsibility for the mental health of their employees who spend a large proportion of their life working. The leader of the company has a responsibility to set the agenda for the company.
- Are the vision and mission inspiring?
- Is the culture a positive one?
- Are the values of the company, written or not, likely to lead to a positive or a toxic work environment?
- Does each employee have regular meetings with their line manager and know what success looks like?
- Is the employee in a role that they genuinely enjoy and are good at?
If that framework is in place within a business, then the senior leadership team is doing its best to make it a great place to work and keeping employees happy. Managers should be encouragers for their team and any bad behaviour from employees or managers should not be tolerated. If a positive culture is not set from the top, then the most negative person in the business will often set the culture with disastrous results! These people can often make life miserable for employees either through bullying or just by lowering the mood of an entire team. One rotten apple in a barrel can spoil all the others.
Home working can be quite isolating. Even as offices begin to open again many employees are spending more time at home. This lack of social contact can lead to feelings of loneliness. As John Donne said, “ No man is an island.” Regular virtual coffee mornings, quizzes and yoga classes can help create more collegiality and cohesiveness within the team which is not only good for mental health but creates better community and communication within the business. Allied to this, there should be an adoption of hybrid working. Related to this is also a need to take regular breaks during the day to freshen the mind, stretch the legs and prevent work quality falling.
During the pandemic, we found people were also not taking their holidays and then in the final few months of the financial year everyone was being forced to take their holidays or lose them. This led to a shortage of team at certain times which was harmful for the business but also led to tiredness and staleness among the team. Making sure employees take regular days and weeks off is also important. To show appreciation to the team, we give every employee their birthday off if it falls during the week. We also give each employee two days a year to volunteer for a charity they are passionate about.
Most companies want to make their place of work somewhere that employees enjoy coming into and are inspired by what the company is trying to achieve. This is a very good baseline to ensure that employees stay happy at work. Courses on mindfulness and positive mindset can also help to encourage employees to worry less; be grateful for what they have and to live in the present moment.