By Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing, Nuffield Health
World Mental Health Day takes place at the beginning of October each year and in 2020, it seemed more significant than ever. Nearly half the population has reported feeling anxious or worried since the pandemic began.
With Government regulations continuing to change, new health and safety measures at work to contend with and businesses trying to figure out what the future workplace will look like it’s not surprising the mental health of both employers and their staff has deteriorated.
I give insight into why we have difficulty with uncertainty and the best employee mental health support businesses can provide during these difficult times.
The mental health impact of uncertainty
The ongoing pandemic has contributed to many employees feeling more distressed and more resistant to uncertainty because so many questions have been raised, which remain unanswered.
‘Is my job safe? ’Will I be back in the office soon?” ‘Will we be in lockdown again?’ Employees now face uncertainty regarding multiple aspects of their lives, some of which may previously have felt were in their control.
Reducing uncertainty requires cerebral energy and this puts extra demands on the body. If the brain cannot reduce the circumstances individuals can experience ‘allostatic load’, which contributes towards health issues like impaired memory, atherogenesis and diabetes.
Numerous studies also link high intolerance of uncertainty to anxiety, obsessive-compulsive difficulties and depression.
Of course, nothing in life is entirely certain but for some the current situation has triggered emotions and scientific research suggests it’s important businesses have strategies in place to support employees emotionally.
How can we help employees become more tolerant of uncertainty?
Employee benefits propositions should include services that give employees access to specialists with whom they can discuss their difficulties and learn positive coping mechanisms for dealing with uncertainty.
If face-to-face offerings aren’t currently possible, telephone or online CBT sessions are useful in assisting employees to address unhelpful thinking patterns or learn useful relaxation techniques.
Investing in webinars and online workshops help managers quickly recognise signs of distress and have the skills and confidence to support others. For example, emotional literacy training is an effective tool for boosting employee resilience by ensuring staff has a common language to discuss mental health.
It’s also important to ensure connectivity for members of staff who are still self-isolating or if businesses remain working from home. Those continuing with prolonged remote working may face psychological hazards linked to increased loneliness and isolation.
Supporting employees with remote therapy of their choosing, either by video, phone or email, provides an additional expert support network while away from their colleagues.
Mental health support can be promoted internally at little cost too. For example, your business could offer access to mental health champions within the company. Mental Health Champion training will provide a resource for employees which encourages them to talk to about their worries or concerns.
Why not consider sharing videos or e-newsletters, in which senior leaders talk about their mental health too? This can help employees feel empowered and build awareness of mental health needs.
Take a customised approach to addressing stressors and be flexible, particularly at transition points. For example, some employees may face challenges with childcare or feel the need to work all the time.
Being accommodating – like offering more flexible work hours when needed – doesn’t mean you are lowering your standards but shows you’re proactive and willing to support employees on a more personal level, helping them to thrive amid uncertainty.