How to support staff mental health in a post-pandemic world

Nick Gold 25 March 2022

Business leaders have discovered a lot since the start of the pandemic. From lessons in leadership to approaching change and competition, it’s been an opportunity for us to learn and develop. But managing staff mental health and wellbeing has been one of the biggest learning curves.

The pandemic took its toll on the mental health of people all over the world. Affected by isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty — not to mention health concerns — more people experienced a mental health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic than had ever been previously recorded. As a result, businesses had to step up and support their staff’s wellbeing — which they did.

But the true ramifications of the pandemic are still emerging. Returning to the workplace post-pandemic brings a variety of new challenges for employees. So how can business leaders continue to bolster employee wellbeing and mental health?

Mental health and the collective pandemic experience

Because the pandemic affected us all, most business leaders and managers have really understood the challenges their staff faced over the course of the pandemic. In response, they’ve implemented brilliant programmes of mental health support — from mental health days to increased wellbeing budgets to improved ESG policies.

But we’re now facing a different challenge. As the dust settles from the pandemic, our mental health focus needs to shift from the collective experience to supporting staff with their individual needs. 

Offering individual mental health support

In the past, most health and wellbeing policies have operated on precedent: the idea that a solution for one person must then apply to everyone. But when it comes to mental health, this approach won’t always work. Instead, as leaders, it’s important to be sensitive and react to the individual experiences of your staff.

Businesses need to move away from catch-all policies. People are affected by events like bereavement and stress in hugely different ways — so global policies aren’t the best way to support your staff through difficult times. Instead, business leaders need to empower their management team to know and understand their staff, so they can give them the right support. It’s all about trusting your staff enough to take time off, then come back and do their job brilliantly when they’re able to.

Why we should ditch the headline-grabbing HR policies

Post-pandemic, there’s been an influx of high-profile businesses advertising generous HR policies around flexible working, holidays, and parental leave.

But headline-grabbing catch-all policies like these aren’t always the best way to support staff mental health as we move beyond the collective experience.

Policies like 4-day working weeks and extended annual leave aren’t always popular with employees. A few years ago, the team at Speakers Corner decided to turn down an unlimited annual leave policy because it would make them feel uncomfortable about taking time off when the workload was high. Additional time off can put big productivity pressures on your team, which can lead to stress and exhaustion.

Managing mental health in the workplace is about trust. Leaders need to trust their employees to take time off when they need it, so they can work hard when they’re feeling well. 

Catch-all policies are too simple a solution — instead, we need sensitive leaders who understand and trust their staff.

Supporting staff through a mental health crisis

We all have business goals we want to achieve — especially as leaders and managers. That can make it difficult to forgo control over our staff’s working hours and existing global HR policies. But we should all aspire to trust our staff to know what’s best for them.

Knowing your staff is key to supporting them through a mental health crisis. The best way to get to know them is to ask questions and check in with them regularly. Giving your team the chance to share their problems and difficulties empowers managers to support them before the issue affects their work. That means you can prepare for potential staff shortages, while proving to your team that you take their wellbeing seriously.

Some people will choose not to share their situations with you — and that’s OK. Not everyone will open up just because you asked. But by cultivating a culture of trust and openness, they might begin to share more over time, allowing you to offer the support they need when they need it.

Supporting mental health in 2022 and beyond

Businesses deserve huge praise for what they’ve done a lot to support employee wellbeing since the start of the pandemic. But while we’ve come a long way, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

As life gets busier and people return to the office, we need to take the opportunity to cultivate safe, supportive environments for our teams. By trusting our staff, and treating them as individual people with individual experiences and needs, we can provide the support they need to feel and perform at their best.

For further information or to book a mental health and wellbeing keynote speaker, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email  info@speakerscorner.co.uk .

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