There are some things you can celebrate in a day. Birthdays. Talking like a pirate. Pancakes. But the subject of mental health needs more attention than a day, a week or even a month.
Businesses that are committed to the wellbeing of their employees maintain transparency around their policies and activities. The best way for you to follow suit is by using internal communications channels, such as the company intranet. That way, you can provide relevant support throughout the year by remaining accountable to each and every member of your staff.
Mental health matters
The Office for National Statistics found that 17.5 million workdays were lost to mental health-related absence, including stress, anxiety and depression, in 2018. In the last ten years, the percentage of absences due to mental health reasons has increased in the UK. And of course, a pandemic and recession are both slated to have a major impact, so these issues aren't going anywhere.
A management team has to take action or risk losing talented employees. And, Internal Communications managers are responsible for delivering impactful employee wellbeing campaigns that actually address the issues that make people want to hide under their duvet.
Make business commitments to provide support
Business leadership is responsible for setting the tone here. A flurry of inspirational messages is not going to help anyone. The average employee's reaction falls into two camps:
- Completely ignore the messaging. Anything that doesn't deliver practical advice is pointless.
- Rage quit. You have just told someone who is at the end of their tether to 'calm down.' Oh dear.
So, here are some ideas for real, impactful commitments that you can make:
Make appropriate accommodations for COVID-19
This is impossible to ignore in 2020, and - by all likelihood - will have an impact for years to come.
As a business, providing homeworking advice and support on your intranet and elsewhere comes first, otherwise people can feel lost, isolated and fearful. Don't expect the same levels of productivity, at least initially, especially if people need to learn new tools. And, if you're implementing flexible working moving forward, have sensible polices in place to ensure workers communicate their work-times and other commitments, like child-care.
For anyone making the move back to the office, make it a safe, positive place. Big warning signs saying 'Do not touch this desk' are off-putting. Instead, remove some desks to leave breathing space. Provide clear, as-necessary instructions for safety but don't bombard people with urgent, stress-inducing messaging that might set off a detrimental emotional response.
Educate your workforce about mental health
An informed workforce is much more likely to empathise with those who are facing challenges to do with their mental health. The truth is, typically, work is not set up to accommodate for complex mental health needs.
For example, someone having a major panic attack will not be able to let you know that they won't be in on time. The thought of picking up the phone often reinforces that state of panic, making it very difficult for them to notify anyone of a problem. And certainly not 24 hours in advance, which some businesses require of people if they have to call in sick. Oh and a reminder, many people who are having a panic attack think they are dying.
Mental illness can be wholly incapacitating at times, and it - or medications used to manage it - can have a physical impact. This is not often acknowledged in the workplace mainly because people are not aware of the wide range of mental health problems out there and the different ways each of these can have an impact. Businesses should accommodate for neurodiversity that goes beyond anxiety and depression, and inform everyone about how to best support those who have a variety of differing mental health issues.
Focus on support during periods of change
If your business is growing or going through a big change, know that this could impact the wellbeing of your employees. By all means celebrate positive change, but make sure some of your messaging acknowledges that this might not be all sunshine and rainbows.
Have an ongoing conversation around stress and mental health when experiencing things like an office move, digital transformation or a team shake-up with lots of starters, leavers and movers. This is best done on a team or 1-1 level, with regular check-ins, or by implementing a buddy system.
Ideally, train managers to notice changing behaviours, such as increased absences, lower productivity or disengagement with workplace social activities. These can be signs of someone struggling with their mental health. If you can't get a trainer in, try offering access to courses like this one.
Ensure breaks are proper breaks
Businesses should encourage a policy of regular breaks with reminders to stand up, stretch and stop staring at screens. And - IT can help with this one - if an employee is on holiday, make it a super easy choice for them to not check their emails while they're away by disabling access to comms platforms, like email.
In any of the more modern Millennial-run offices, you'll find a quiet zone or calm room for employees that need five minutes to de-stress. If you're a remote working team, why not use your video conferencing software to replicate this feature? Run a webinar with a soothing musical playlist to zen out to, a meditation session to enjoy at lunchtime or even morning yoga classes.
Offer little acts of kindness
Little things really do add up. Depending on your budget, sign up for a fruit delivery service for the office or even a recipe box delivery for your team. If you know you need people to work overtime on a big deadline, pay for their commute or get takeout as a thank you. (But of course, be careful not to make working late the new normal.)
Take some pictures of people enjoying these acts of kindness and share them on your intranet to give them that 'feel-good' fame - a few 'likes' can go a long way to motivating a team.
Maintain momentum with open, honest messaging
Keep your employees informed with regular updates on what your organisation is doing to support mental health. This is a great way to remain accountable as a business. One of the best ways of doing this is by using your intranet to deliver campaigns all year round, addressing concerns that may appear on a cyclical basis, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Here are some more channel strategies you may want to employ:
Provide 'on-tap' mental health resources
Using your company intranet, share links to helpful resources. These include helplines, articles and company wellbeing policies that people may not know about, like healthcare provisions. And, share documents on a storage system anyone can access at any time, like SharePoint.
Then, use a company newsletter to deliver this information each month - email is more formal and gives the contents an appropriate sense of importance.
It's also worth noting that resources come in all shapes and sizes. Give people company access to apps such as:
Use informal channels to keep people involved
Take the topic of mental health seriously, but hold it lightly. What can you do, especially in a time of global crisis, to lighten the mood without coming across as blasé?
Answer: choose your form of communication carefully. Within digital workspaces, there are formal and informal channels. Informal channels include instant messenger, such as Slack, Teams or Trillian, or even the comments section on your intranet. These are vital for building connections between employees.
Use such spaces to post, host and promote social events, bookclubs, show-and-tells, pet pictures, 'daily gratitudes', and so on. Why not start a fun poll about brunch, for example? If you set an open, friendly tone, people will follow suit.
Gather feedback and new ideas
Use sentiment analyses on your intranet comments and reactions to check if people are responding positively, or, indeed, negatively. Run polls on instant messenger and request feedback from team leaders via email.
Share and listen to stories from those around you to make sure marginalised voices are heard. Learn from the engagement of employees at all levels. That way, you will continue to give people the support they actually need, long-term.
To find out more about how you can best deploy your intranet, download our interactive checklist, 'What you deserve from your next company intranet.'