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March 29, 2021 / by Jennifer Lyness

Ideas to Improve Workplace Mental Health in 2021

Mental health has become an urgent priority for companies as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The uncertainty and stress created by the pandemic, and increased isolation due to large-scale remote working, have put pressure on workforce mental wellbeing. The global cost of mental-ill health through lost productivity, absences and staff turnover is estimated to be around $2.5 trillion annually.

Recent research has found that about half of working adults globally say they have experienced increased anxiety around job security (56%), stress due to changes in work routines and organization (55%), feel lonely or isolated working from home (49%) or have difficulty achieving a work-life balance (50%).

We invited members of our community to share what their companies are doing to protect their employees’ mental health and what positive changes they foresee for business with mental health in 2021: What positive changes do you foresee for the way businesses will tackle the issue of mental health at work in 2021? And what is your best piece of advice on how to make that change happen?

Support a more hybrid workforce

Sara H., Human Resources

The past 12 months have shown that people can be just as productive and experience better work-life balance when working outside of traditional workplaces. As choice and flexibility become more commonplace, businesses will need to continually evolve and adapt their well-being services to adequately support a more hybrid workforce.

Businesses can make change happen by talking – and listening! Ask your people how they are doing and what they need. With our company, our managers and employees provide us with valuable insights that inform our strategy. By relying on data and lived-experiences, businesses will get to the heart of what really matters most, develop solutions and measure their impact on the mental health of their people. As business continues to navigate through periods of uncertainty and volatility, the need to collaborate and share best practices with peers and experts has never been more important and should be an essential part of any healthcare response.

Build mental wellbeing into your leadership culture

Dan W., VP of Business

For too long, mental health in the workplace has been viewed as a business risk, with a focus on managing individuals and incidents – a fact only exacerbated by COVID-19. The truth is, like physical health, mental health is a constant human reality for every person, every day. In 2021, we can expect more workplaces to recognize this and step-change their action on mental wellbeing, alongside a continued focus on physical health.

How we proactively support mental health in the workplace has a long way to go, but we are not starting from scratch. We can build on our collective decades of experience and expertise in physical health and safety to develop powerful actions and approaches. One of the most impactful choices we made is to include mental wellbeing questions in our employee engagement surveys to understand real-time how our teams are feeling. We have also taken steps to build mental wellbeing into our leadership culture. We believe our workplaces can and should be positive environments that support mental health and wellbeing. Getting it right is an ongoing focus, but one that has never been more urgent.

Engage, understand and support staff

Lee S., CEO

People around the world went through severe challenges in 2020. Many are still reeling from layoffs in their families, grieving the death of loved ones, are sick themselves, or struggling with remote work, social isolation and mental health issues. The pandemic has not only changed business dynamics, but also the approach towards employee mental health. Compassion and empathy are no longer seen as extra, nice-to-have qualities. They are now essential. Businesses are increasingly focusing on investing in caring for their employees, and amplifying existing policies to better support employee wellbeing.

The most important and meaningful change will come from how leaders engage, understand and support staff at a more developmental level. Leaders should focus on the following areas: understanding the difference between urgency and importance; being compassionate while driving employees to action by channeling their feelings of frustration or despair. Finally, trust, transparency and openness will need to be the pillars of leadership, and workplace HR policies of the future.

Reach out to all your people across the organization

Kristy N., Human Resources

Wellbeing and mental health have always been important considerations for your team before the pandemic, but maybe not as highly prioritized. Now, with the significant work and life disruptions created by the crisis, these aspects were brought to a whole new life and light on how important they are for businesses.

We need to understand better the concerns, be proactive with ideas and programs, and reach out to all of our people across the organization, including our families and our communities so that they are aware that we care and that we will help. Having a focus on this makes us all better for both our short and long-term personal, professional life and health.

COVID-19 has impacted many aspects of our lives including changing, for many, where and how we work. This impact is likely to accelerate the pre-COVID-19 trend of businesses prioritising and seeking ways to support the mental health of their employees.

Employers need remember to take a broad view of what you class as mental health support and then be led by the evidence. A broad view incorporates mindfulness and mental health first aid all the way through to flexible working policies and financial wellbeing. Being led by the evidence means actively looking to understand which approaches work for who, in what context and why – and if that evidence doesn’t yet exist, perhaps it’s your business that will generate it so that others can learn from you.