The World Health Organization estimates more than 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression, many of whom also suffer from symptoms of anxiety, with a global cost of an estimated US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Covid-19 and the rapid switch to working from home has exacerbated the feelings of stress, isolation and loneliness brought from the rapid massive change to the nature of work as well as our daily lives. As a result, employee well-being and mental health are critical concerns to any organization.
The Mental Health Foundation has issued guidance for workers, and in light of Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to write about how we can help each other through these stressful times:
- Speak up. There’s truth in the age old saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved.” It can be difficult to discuss your feelings in the workplace, but try to identify a colleague or a manager to discuss your anxieties with. And managers: You play a crucial role in supporting staff that experience distress and/or mental health problems. You are the first official contact between the employer and the individual and you can set the tone. So, when an employee does open up, listen, and if your company has an EAP, encourage them to use those services.
- Keep active. The Health and Safety Executive recommends leaving your desk every 30 minutes, even if only briefly. Try standing up when taking phone calls or set a timer to remind yourself to pop out and get some fresh air. The positive link between exercise and mood is huge, increasing the level of mood-lifting endorphins.
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- Eat well. Eating well during these stressful times is not easy. In fact, food is often the go-to for many when stressed; that quick coffee and chocolate bar can be a blessing, but mindless snacking while working can lead to overeating and eventually, guilt. Instead, use mealtime wisely: Take your meals away from your desk, relax and enjoy it, perhaps reflecting on your day with loved ones or reading a chapter of your current book.
- Drink sensibly. “Self-isolation from the quarantine has led to widespread feelings of depression, anxiety and stress, all of which can exacerbate substance abuse,” wrote Sue Bright, executive director of New Directions for Women, in a recent blog post. She discussed red flags managers can look for, even amid the WFH environment. Her post can help you decide how you want to help your team.
- Quick catchups. It’s easy to get lost in your work and before you know it the day has passed, and you’ve barely spoken to a soul. At the beginning of lockdown, I made a special effort to speak to a couple of people each day. I initially started messaging people asking if they were free for a chat, and nine times out of 10, they were very willing. Now, hardly a day passes when someone doesn’t contact me for a 10-minute catchup.
- We are not all the same, so why push yourself to be similar especially in work circles? I have researched the topic of diversity in the workplace and one thing that I will always remember is we as individuals or organizations benefit from being surrounded by people who are different from us, because that is how we learn. So, accept who you are as well as who your colleagues are. Your strengths may be another’s weakness, and vice versa.
- Be kind. It’s by no coincidence that this year’s Mental Health Awareness theme is kindness. Apart from being having a positive effect on one’s own mental health, helping others can reduce stress as well as improve mood, self-esteem and happiness. It also makes perfect business sense. According to the Stevenson/Farmer Review, the annual cost of poor mental health to UK employers is between £33 and £42 billion annually, over half of which is from lost productivity, with the rest coming from sickness, absenteeism and staff turnover.
In these difficult times, maintaining good mental health can take a concerted effort. As employees, managers and colleagues, we can help one another even from afar, by observing these suggestions ourselves and encouraging them in our peers.