Why every business should take employee mental health seriously

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There’s no denying that living in lockdown amid a global pandemic is something new to us all. And for millions of workers across the country, they’ve spent the last few weeks working from home as a result of social distancing. Here, Parin Ashra, UX/UI Designer at Perlego for mental health awareness week, delves into mental health within businesses, and why we should be doing more.

 

Whilst remote working isn’t a new phenomenon, spending your entire professional life online will no doubt feel strange. Most people are used to commuting to an office and seeing their colleagues in person daily. Working from home on your own and dealing with the stresses of the pandemic can definitely have negative mental health effects.

In fact, according to a recent survey by market research firm Opinium, 57% of UK employees are working from home due to COVID-19 and 34% admitted that this way of working is negatively impacting their mental health. Meanwhile, research from the Mental Health Foundation claims that nearly a quarter of adults feel lonely while living in lockdown.

Like many other businesses, Perlego moved its team of 60 employees online in order to comply with lockdown measures and ensure business as usual. The move to remote working has been a big success, and we’re seeing opportunities for a better work-life balance. 

But we’ve only been able to achieve this by taking the mental health of employees seriously. We fundamentally believe that each individual employee is hard working and is an integral part of the business. Everyone in the company is pretty young, and due to the nature of being a company that is growing, expanding and evolving, the environment is quite dynamic and people need to be hands on.

Operating in a fast-paced industry can increase the stress levels of employees, which is why it's important to acknowledge this so that we can manage each other as well as ourselves. Businesses should put mental health at the forefront of how they work and talk to their teams on a human level, whether it’s in meetings or one-to-one catch ups. Employers need to be conscious that staff are working hard and at times failure is part of the learning curve. It's something to learn from. 

There are a number of things we have tried to incorporate to relieve levels of stress and anxiety, especially once it was made clear that we should start working from home. We felt it was important to reduce the WFH impact and maintain the feeling of regularly interacting. For example, we’ve been running virtual coffee and one-to-one catch ups, daily and weekly quarantine challenges, virtual pub quizzes, virtual yoga and even attempted a mexican wave on video. These are just a few things you can do to connect people and have fun during a difficult time.

Of course, while lockdown is having an unprecedented impact on people’s mental health, businesses should always be taking steps to promote healthy mental wellbeing across their teams. We have our own mental health committee, where we actively discuss ways to tackle mental health issues and are discussing initiatives to improve the work environment to nurture our beliefs regarding mental health. With certified training, we can learn to better deal with mental health issues within the workplace, assimilate information and form action plans.

It’s also helpful to develop resources about mental health that are accessible to all employees, including guidelines for managers when talking to employees; things to look out for that can trigger mental health issues (environment, workloads, not taking regular breaks); being open about mental health; positive affirmations to help beat negative thoughts; weekly wellness tips; links to articles and other documents that are worth reading; advice to be aware of through the COVID-19 lockdown; and phone numbers to call (Samaritans or other free MH services).

Lockdown is a difficult time, but we're all in this together. And whilst we within Perlego miss each other and the vibrant culture we have developed, it is crucial that business take into account that people's mental health is being impacted and to take steps to support employees. By taking mental health seriously, you put the focus back on the employees. To remind them that yes, their work is valued, but so are they as people.