Mental Health Awareness Week – A focus on kindness

19 May 2020

18-24 May welcomes the annual Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. Each year awareness centres around a theme and for 2020 the very welcome theme is kindness.

Earlier this year saw a widespread media campaign of ‘be kind’, imploring everyone to consider the impact of their words and behaviours. The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a huge test of this resolve, and we have seen genuine demonstrations of altruism across the globe. From our weekly uplifting clapping for key workers, to volunteer shoppers, and those doing incredible things to raise funds for great causes, this truly has been an outpouring of human compassion.

Now we seek to take our first small steps out of lockdown and back into the workplace, how do we ensure that the principles of kindness are not forgotten?

Kindness at work

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses and the economy is one that we will be feeling for quite some time and employers will understandably be keen to get their operations up and running again as soon as possible.

Whether your employees have been furloughed, on unpaid leave or have been working from home, they will also have experienced the impact of the pandemic and it is important that employers recognise this when welcoming employees back.

A recent survey by the office of national statistics (ONS) states 47 per cent of people had reported ‘high levels’ of anxiety. Whilst 84 per cent said they were worried about the effect the virus is having on their life, and 53 per cent said it was affecting their wellbeing.

Lasting impacts of the coronavirus pandemic may include:

  • household financial difficulties;
  • pressures of home schooling;
  • concerns about future employment;
  • impact of caring responsibilities/lack of support;
  • worsening of mental health and anxiety conditions;
  • missing family, friends and colleagues;
  • poor health/death of family members and/or friends; and/or
  • continuing anxiety about catching the coronavirus.

Whilst as an employer you cannot solve these issues, a level of kindness and empathy will certainly help the transition back into the workplace. 

What can you do as an employer to support this?

Teams will want to speak to each other, share experiences, worries and be generally supportive to each other.

Employers could support this by:

  • ensuring a welcoming atmosphere to return to;
  • ensuring steps are taken to ensure a clean working environment;
  • ensuring adequate PPE and distancing in line with government advice and in discussion with health and safety advisors;
  • being mindful of these impacts and how they may affect each individual differently;
  • providing a welcome back lunch;
  • reaching a balance between ‘there is a job to be done’ and providing a chance to settle back in and embrace any changes;
  • holding ‘welcome back’ meetings and regular meetings thereafter during the settling in period;
  • being aware of changes in behaviour that may indicate a concern and knowing how to address them appropriately;
  • nominating mental health champions to listen and help seek support;
  • be clear and honest in your communications about the business impact of coronavirus, work reorganisation and critical activities in the short term;
  • listen to your employees and allow them a voice; and
  • actively encourage staff to make use of your confidential Employee Assistance Programme if you have one. Highlight the variety of support available and provide their contact details.

Some of these will equally be applicable for those remaining working from home for the longer term. Creating an environment where its acceptable and encouraged to discuss our own mental health on a regular basis with co-workers and managers, helps to build transparency, trust and a greater depth of working relationship that ultimately enhances performance.

Perhaps think about instigating deliberate practices, such as ‘mental health Monday’, or ‘face-it Friday’ to break the stigma and start the dialogue – wherever you’re based.

For a discussion around your approach to wellbeing or any concerns you have with your employees and their mental health, contact Laura Cerasale or Hannah Gibson-Patel.