This week marks the Mental Health Foundation’s annual Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has resulted in strict ‘stay-at-home’ orders, social distancing, and a record-breaking economy crash. These three factors alone are causing stress and anxiety amongst communities, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The topic of employment is another pressure point. For those of us who aren’t keyworkers and are still fortunate to have a job amidst mass furlough and redundancy, working from home has become the ‘new normal’. Although countless surveys and studies highlight that remote working is significantly increasing employee productivity, there’s another COVID-19 crisis effect that must be brought to light.
The rapid switch to remote working at the height of a pandemic is having a detrimental impact on employer-employee mental health.
For many of us, this will be the first time we’ve worked from home, especially for such a prolonged period of time. Our journeys to work have been reduced to a few steps around the house, and many of our offices are now virtual. Technology is affording us the ease and flexibility to work from home, but the isolation, lack of face-to-face colleague interaction, and having to juggle other personal commitments is proving difficult for a vast number of employers and employees.
Yet, these aren’t the only things that are bound to take a toll. Certain positions come with their own added pressures. Tech roles are a prime example. The fast-moving industry makes for fast-paced work environments and tight deadlines, causing workers to be more susceptible to stress. A recent study by the British Interactive Media Association revealed that there is a ‘mental health in tech crisis’ as two-thirds of tech workers feel stressed, with over half (52%) having suffered from anxiety and depression at some point.
MHAW reminds us that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ during this current time, and most importantly, that we need to be ‘in tune’ with our mental health and try to keep mentally fit. The harsh reality is that as long as COVID-19 is around, remote working measures are likely to remain and be pushed by world leaders. Thus, remote working teams must make an effort to actively support one another. “How can we do this?” you may be wondering. To help get the ideas ball rolling, here are our top five ways to encourage mental fitness in the ‘office’ during the pandemic.
1. Double-down on communication
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. We may not be able to talk to our colleagues face-to-face, but we can still converse. Pick up the phone, send an email, or make use of collaborative enterprise communication platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. Technology enables us to stay in touch and stay connected regardless of social distancing and lockdown measures. Nothing’s stopping you from having those daily ‘catch-up conversations’ that you used to have at the coffee machine. Check-in with one another as you usually would.
2. Promote company wellbeing benefits
Employers, this one’s for you. At a time when health fears are high, it’s important that employees are aware of all the wellbeing benefits your organisation offers. Whether they include health insurance, access to counselling and therapy services, or extended lunch breaks on Fridays, make sure they know about what’s available to them. Mind Charity even recommends that companies have a Wellness Action Plan (WAP). This is a series of practical steps that help you to support your team when they aren’t feeling great.
3. Do virtual team workouts
Physical exercise helps to keep us both physically and mentally fit. It is scientifically proven that working-out has a positive impact on your mental wellbeing; this is all down to the release of endorphins. So, why not try doing some virtual team workouts? There are loads of online fitness routines you can follow. Just set-up a video conferencing call and get moving. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous, ab-crunching, arm-pumping exercise. British fitness coach Joe Wicks has been a smash hit since the lockdown was enforced in the UK. His YouTube-based home workouts are simple to follow and adaptable for all ages.
4. Schedule fortnightly team downtime
Post-work drinks and team building outings don’t have to stop just because you’re all working from home. Once again, our normal office activities can remain with the help of technology. Online quizzes, wine hours, and karaoke evenings are just a few examples of how remote working teams can keep their spirits up and have some downtime.
5. Share available support offered by mental health organisations
Mental health organisations are dedicated to providing professional help and advice, and there are many across the globe. Sharing this information with your colleagues will help educate them about the mental health support that’s out there.
“Educating or simply talking about mental health at work opens up a channel for employees, and senior leaders, within a company to share their experiences in a way that encourages honesty and makes the team feel supported”, according to Megan Barber, VP of Human Resources at Wrike.
Mental fitness at work should be a priority for every company at this time and beyond. It’s time to be mindful of our mental wellbeing, and in conjunction with this year’s theme for MHAW, be kind and patient with one another because mental health matters.