I’m currently in the middle of my maternity leave – and making a return to work.
During the first lockdown, I suffered from an episode of severe pregnancy related mental ill health – this was at month four of my pregnancy. At five and half months I was back online, adjusting the business to survive the pandemic, and reinventing our way of working.
The choices my manager was able to make showed me it was possible, under incredible pressure, with competing priorities to give employees support in a return to work, that also benefit bottom line and meets regulation.
My situation was relatively rare, but mental health and wellbeing is driving the return to the workplace for the majority of office workers.
I’ve heard so many say “home working has worked for me.” So I was surprised to read that almost two thirds (64%) amongst 18-34 year olds look forward to returning to the office for mental health and wellbeing reasons. (i)
The pressure cooker
That feeling of surprise has reminded me to continually step out of my own experience, and the echo chamber of sameness that surrounds me.
So I started reaching out to different employee groups, ages and demographics – to see how things were for them and one of the comments made me reflect;
“It’s all talk, one minute I’m being sent some mental health landing page, then I’m being sent invites for out of hours meetings with my manager and team – because we have to ‘prove our value’ before the start of consultancy.”
The pandemic has taught us so much about humanity & compassion but, the pressure cooker of it has forced our survival mode; under incredible workplace pressure we feel we only have certain choices. A bit like someone struggling with poor mental health, might believe they have just one choice.
There are always choices
Survival mode, can be useful short term, but is not sustainable long term. And its effects on how you manage your team can be damaging.
So at this pivotal time, with some gloomy predictions of ‘increased workplace conflict resulting from pressure cooker environments’ (ii) and of ‘the great resignation’ (iii) – make a choice:
Embrace your humanity!! Beware your survival mode!!
The pandemic was a hard stop. It has had an unequal effect on different employee groups. The easing of lockdown and how we manage the return to work is an opportunity for a soft start.
Firstly, continually remind yourself that some will be coping well.
However, we will be starting with depleted mental health for many.
My top tips for supporting mental health in the return to work:
For organisations, leaders and managers:
- Identify at risk groups and plan to support them:
– Furloughed workers
– Financial insecurity and job insecurity
– Those with caring responsibilities
Some cited in the Government’s Mental Health COVID recovery plan as hardest hit:
– 18-25 year olds
– Those with insecure incomes, contract worker, bank or zero hours staff, gig workers
– Those who were already ‘vulnerable’
- Do things in a compassionate way
- Ensure all employees have an active voice, genuine two ways conversations
- If people need to make a return to the office – make that attractive and provide reassurance
- Join up with appropriate external MH support so your organisation isn’t managing it alone (iv)
For individuals returning to work:
Take time to reflect and answer some questions to yourself: What will support my return? What might I find difficult? What help do I need? Do this before you start and reflect on it after the first day, week, month etc. This will support your autonomy in your ‘new normal’ and ensure you always have choices. (v)
The fact that the above is increasingly underpinned by regulation and policy means you can keep the support front and centre; be there for your employees and support the bottom line by:
- Meeting HSE Stress Management Standards (vi)
- Reducing presenteeism (vii)
- Supporting and preventing burnout (viii)
- Minimising workplace conflicts that arise from pressure cooker environments and work overload
- Seeking to prevent unusually high staff turnover
If you get to the end of this and it all feels like too much, just remember: this is a way of being that doesn’t have to add to workload. It can actively reduce it – as well as make everyone happier and more productive.
Special thanks to…
Our guest blogger this week is our Training Manager, Alexis Stevens, who is currently on maternity leave.
We offer a range of support from our Training Team on issues such as managing anxiety, stress and burnout; Mental Health First Aid. And importantly, how to have a Courageous Conversation about mental health in the workplace. Our courses are for businesses and individuals. Find out more via the links!