It’s Mental Health Awareness Month so we have focussed our latest series of Wellbeing Blogs on Mental Health.
It’s no secret the global pandemic has revolutionized employers’ attitudes toward workplace flexibility. While there is a lot to gain from the hybrid work model, it comes with its own share of social disadvantages. Fittingly, this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week centres around loneliness, which — like numerous mental health struggles — can be invisible: 1 in 5 of us hide our feelings of loneliness from others. At the same time, data from the HSE (2021) annual report shows that work-related stress has been on the rise. On the bright side, Unmind, a workplace mental health platform, identified several flourishing and promising trends that might help improve the employees’ mental health. We picked three of those trends to explore here.
Wellbeing champions are advocates of mental health in the workplace. They are often already part of the team — someone with the knowledge or distinct motivation to promote the wellbeing strategy of an organization. There are no firm and fixed rules that govern their responsibilities — the core element is a concern for and empathy towards the mental health of their colleagues. These individuals are an organization’s eyes and ears. They do not only identify the need for a helping hand and deliver wellbeing messages — the wellbeing champions help their colleagues comprehend the complexities of mental health, highlight the organization’s wellbeing offering, and arrange events that spotlight mental health.
According to Unmind’s (2022) report, roughly 80% of respondents believe in the need and significance of wellbeing champions in the workplace. Importantly, to help your wellbeing champions nurture the organization’s mental health, you need to carve time for them to do so and set aside a budget for the needed training. In doing so, you are not only tapping into the potential return that mental health investment has (5:1), but you are building a workplace that is kind, welcoming and psychologically safe.
While research suggests that working from the ease of your home can increase productivity and curb burnout, the concern around the mental health — and particularly perceived isolation — of those who do not enjoy such work conditions remains. Luckily, digital tools can come in handy in these situations. Some organizations choose to encourage digital socializing, while others explore digital avenues to boost workplace mental health. For instance, Unilever developed an award-winning ClickWell app to monitor and evaluate the mental health status of their employees. The data obtained through the app is entirely private and never shared with managers, HR, or other team members. It solely exists to serve individual employees (and their families), giving them uncomplicated and immediate access to a range of tools and resources that benefit their mental health.
Also, it should not go unacknowledged that some of us are reluctant about explicitly discussing our struggles with another person, but digital tools may help us feel more comfortable and secure. Given that digital tools have the potential to ease the transition of health offerings from the real to the virtual world, it comes as no surprise that more organizations consider them as part of a fine wellbeing strategy.
Wrestling the Stigma
The stigma around mental health is not due to a lack of compassion, but rather the ever-present misconceptions about mental health. For example, if an individual shares their recurring anxious thoughts with a colleague, the typical responses — “Maybe you’re thinking too much!” or “It will pass, just ignore it.” — are likely not because the colleague wishes to be rude or unhelpful, but more likely because they lack the knowledge about how to validate and be helpful in these conversations.
A dispiriting report coming from the Mental Health Foundation revealed that 4 in 10 Scottish workers fear that talking about their mental health would negatively impact their job prospects or job security. This illustrates why better mental health awareness and management in the workplace is essential to fighting the stigma. Fortunately, as Unmind found, HR decision-makers are determined to dedicate 2022 to wrestling the stigma and fostering sincere and open conversations around workplace mental health.