Next in our series of HR Insights we focus on some of the current challenges’ facing organisations around the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
When the pandemic first hit the priority for most businesses was putting robust plans and systems in place to support remote working. With working from home now pretty much the norm, we thought it would be useful to gain some insights into what longer term strategies organisations should be putting in place to support employees and line managers with their mental health and overall wellbeing.
We spoke to Mike Thompson – who runs a wellbeing company that advises organisations around wellbeing and engagement. Additionally we spoke to two senior HR professionals, Anna Lees, Head of Engagement & Growth at Refinitiv and Jonathan Mayes, Head of HR for Technology, Operations & Central Functions and Head of ER at TSB Bank to gain some insight into what their organisations have embedded to support their employees.
Below we hear from Mike Thompson, Managing Partner at Gen Healthy Minds.
Mike Thompson is former head of Early Careers at Barclays and now runs wellbeing company Gen Healthy Minds. His passion is the wellbeing of young people progressing through their early careers and his business provides training and support tools for both graduates and apprentices to help them thrive on their programmes.
We are moving into a new era where longer term flexible working environments and remote working is becoming the norm. What challenges is this new way of working presenting organisations when it comes to employee mental health and wellbeing?
Over the past 9 months we have all been through a real rollercoaster ride of emotions as everyone’s lives have been turned upside down by the arrival of COVID-19. Whilst all workers have been impacted, one group have been hit particularly hard and that is young people, including apprentices and graduates making their way in their careers.
The expected journey from education into the workplace evaporated overnight, to be replaced by virtual inductions from a bedroom or living room, meeting your line manager via a Teams call and never stepping foot in an office or factory environment.
Dealing with the change brought about by COVID-19 has been hard for all of us but for apprentices and graduates it has felt particularly hard and living in the new world is having an impact on their wellbeing and performance. The team at Gen Healthy Minds work with groups of new apprentices’ day in and day out to equip them to stay well and thrive. On our workshops two common themes come through consistently.
- Stress levels are heightened - every group we work with are sharing with us the classic signs of increased stress ranging from problems sleeping/nightmares to reduced concentration and heightened anxiety levels
- Motivation levels are low – the prolonging of lockdown has hit motivation levels even amongst the most highly motivated self-starting individuals
These two challenges are often interlinked with heightened stress levels impacting upon our emotional state and making it harder for us to concentrate and maintain motivation levels.
What solutions can organisations embed to address these issues?
At Gen Healthy Minds we focus on positive psychology. The essence of positive psychology is that we can all lead happier healthier lives by adopting simple positive daily behaviours.
These behaviours are all grounded in research and are shown to lift our mood. We have been working with apprentices and graduates to put in place some simple positive psychology behaviours. Here are 6 of the behaviours we recommend everyone should consider as they think about their wellbeing and motivation.
- Be self-aware – check in on yourself every day as to how you are feeling. How energised are you and how do you feel? We use a simple 1-10 scale where 1 is feeling very low and 10 is totally flourishing and wherever you are on this scale how can you take action to make small steps up the scale?
- Be structured and planned – having goals, be they short term or long term, is motivational and gives us purpose and satisfaction in life
- Be grateful – practicing gratitude helps us to be more positive individuals and offset worries and negative thoughts. Writing down three good things every day changes the shape of our brains and triggers “happy hormones” such as oxytocin to offset our stress hormones
- Be healthy – introducing simple daily practices around diet, activity, sleep, and hydration improves our energy levels and ability to deal with challenges when we face them. Simply drinking more water or cutting down sugar levels can boost our mood and resilience
- Be Mindful – practicing mindfulness (living in the here and now) helps boost our happiness and stimulate “happy hormones” and positive thinking. Adopting daily routines such as mindful breathing or mindful body scanning makes us more aware of how we are feeling.
- Be connected – having strong connections with others who you can share your feeling and emotions with is very important. A problem shared is a problem halved has never been more relevant as it is in modern society
Are there differences between small and large companies?
Whether you employ 5 people or 5000 the questions you should be asking yourself are the same:
- Environment - do you provide the environment and the tools for your young people to be able to practice these behaviours each day? Do you have an environment where people can connect and share or are encouraged to check in with themselves?
- Development and tools - are you supporting apprentices with the development needed to understand their mental health and equip them with the tools to proactively manage it? There are many excellent Apps out there that support wellbeing including our own Gen Healthy Minds App. Theses can provide just in time support or tools to manage your mental health such as mindfulness.
- Support – do you have sufficient wider support in place such as mentors and mental health first aiders as well as a good occupational health provider where more specialist support is needed?
Why is it so important for organisations to focus on the mental health and wellbeing of employees and what are the benefits?
In our new COVID-19 impacted world we are seeing increased levels of mental ill-health because of the extra stress and anxiety people are facing. If companies do not address this and put in place proactive practices then, at best, they will see productivity fall and at worst a growth in sickness and long-term absence from work.
Employers who neglect to look after the wellbeing of their colleagues are also more likely to see lower employee engagement and higher attrition levels. The opposite is the case where employers genuinely care for their colleagues and put in place proactive support strategies. Here we see higher engagement levels, productivity and loyalty.
How can you measure success?
Communication is key. It is vital to stay in touch with colleagues and check in regularly on how they are feeling. You can do this in numerous ways through buddy systems, short surveys, line manager 1-1s etc but the most important thing is to keep checking in. This is particularly important given how we can no longer see each other in an office environment. Look out for individuals who are living alone in particular where the risk of isolation and loneliness is far greater.
Technology can also support your measurement. Online surveys or apps can be used very effectively to reach colleagues and check-in on them. Our Gen Healthy Minds app provides wellbeing training and support but also asks individuals how they are feeling each time they log in thus building a picture for the employer of the wellbeing of their workforce.
It has always been important to focus on positive mental health but in the current environment it has moved up to number one priority in my opinion. As HR and Early Careers Professionals we can no longer sit back and hope our occupational health colleagues or providers can support us. We must take the bull by the horns and build wellbeing into the heart of the programmes we run.
Managing Partner - Gen Healthy Minds and former Head of Early Careers at Barclays