Dr Nick Earley is a Clinical Psychologist and Head of Psychology at workplace wellbeing provider Happence. He has a wealth of experience supporting people with mental health difficulties and helping workplaces to prioritise employee wellbeing. He is also a keen advocate and speaker on mental health and resilience, particularly in the realms of public health and corporate wellbeing.
In this article, Dr Earley responds to some frequently asked questions about post-pandemic workplace wellbeing. Some of the probing questions were posed during the recent Make A Difference Media webinar entitled “The Hidden Pandemic” which was sponsored by Happence. A recording of this can be accessed free here.
Q1. In the workplace and wider society, the pandemic has had far-reaching consequences for mental health. Will it take a while for the number of people experiencing mental health issues to go back to pre-Covid levels?
It is very difficult to tell at the moment. However, the events of the pandemic have caused ubiquitous stress and trauma for many people which will likely lead to an increased need for mental health provision by NHS services. On the other hand, we are optimistic that mental health and wellbeing have become commonplace in the public discourse during the pandemic, which will hopefully reduce stigma and encourage people to speak more openly about their mental health and seek support sooner.
Q2. Is workplace wellbeing likely to remain high on the business agenda after the pandemic?
Whilst the pandemic has been a challenging experience overall, it has led to a greater focus on wellbeing; both for individuals and companies. We have seen wellbeing become a C-suite agenda item in many companies, which can only be a good thing. At the very least, it has meant that companies will be better versed not just in the human argument, but also the strong economic argument for a preventive approach to workplace wellbeing. I also believe that prospective employees will be more discerning when choosing where to work, with companies who put their people first coming out on top.
Time will tell, but we are hopeful that these positive changes will continue in a post-Covid future. With hybrid working becoming the norm for many, I believe employers have a duty to continue to play an active role in the wellbeing of their employees.
Q3. How can businesses balance the need for meeting strenuous targets with supporting employee wellbeing?
Putting your people first does not mean that your business targets, results, clients and stakeholders will suffer. Indeed, the opposite is the case. When you put your people and their wellbeing first, they are motivated to put their best selves forward and are more likely to be focused, engaged and better able to manage stressors. Stressed or disengaged employees are more likely to be absent from work, not performing at their best, or wanting to move on from their roles. All these factors will adversely impact business targets.
Q4. Encouraging people to speak openly about their mental health is crucial for fostering a culture of psychological safety in the workplace. What can be done to tackle invalidating responses that employees may receive, such as “yeah I have that too, and I get on”?
Attitudes to wellbeing and mental health can vary dramatically, and this is often due to people lacking knowledge of the subject. The best way to tackle these kinds of comments is by rolling out and promoting a leadership-backed wellbeing strategy that has advocates and champions at all levels of the business. Having leaders that are willing to share anecdotal personal experiences can really help with this too.
Q5. Suicide is often a taboo subject in the workplace. What steps can be taken by employers to prevent suicide?
Suicide in the workplace is relatively uncommon; however, when an organisation loses someone to suicide, it can be very distressing for employees. The causes of suicide are complex, and we often do not know why people take their own life, which can make coming to terms with the loss of a colleague even more difficult.
Employers can take steps towards suicide prevention regardless of whether work is a major cause of an employee’s mental health problems. A good suicide prevention policy can even be worked into existing occupational health and wellbeing policies.
Public Health England, in collaboration with Business in the Community, produced a helpful toolkit for employers on suicide prevention that unions should make their employers aware of. Key guidance includes the promotion of good mental health and de-stigmatisation of mental health issues, stress reduction at work, preventative action against bullying, and mental health training for managers. In addition, the Samaritans support workplaces with a range of training and eLearning tools.
Q6. What can businesses do to support their staff when they don’t have dedicated wellbeing budgets?
Even without financial resources allocated specifically to wellbeing, businesses can help their employees through training courses to boost knowledge and skills on resilience-related subjects.
Some other low- or zero-cost ideas for supporting staff include scheduling walking meetings to get people moving, setting up exercise clubs for before or after work or during lunch breaks, inviting people to bring their pets to work, and signposting online wellbeing resources and mobile apps.
Q7. Successful wellbeing strategies are often implemented by taking a top-down approach. How can businesses ensure that their leaders have the skills and confidence they need to champion wellbeing support?
The first step businesses should take in implementing a successful wellbeing strategy is getting senior leaders on board. Once management understand and are willing to promote wider rollout, employees in the rest of the company are more likely to buy into the initiative. This goes hand in hand with training for the whole workforce, such as mental health first-aid training, and the nomination of wellbeing champions who can oversee wellbeing practices on the ground. They will also be able to help raise awareness of mental health issues through awareness days and speaker events, for example.
It is also crucial to have a wellbeing policy that describes the roles and responsibilities of managers, HR, colleagues and those in specific wellbeing positions. This policy should also be reviewed regularly to keep it fit-for-purpose.
Q8. If managers are reluctant to participate in wellbeing programmes, what can be done to encourage them?
It is not unusual for anyone, manager or not, to be sceptical about a wellbeing programme; wellbeing is still relatively new word in the public lexicon and may have negative connotations for some people. I have come across this many times and I have found that once I have explained the term, people are generally more open and accepting of wellbeing. I explain that wellbeing is relevant yet unique to everyone and strongly linked to our happiness, life satisfaction and reduced stress.
Q9. How can businesses manage wellbeing initiatives on a global scale, accounting for cultural differences in attitudes towards mental health?
Where possible, an organisation’s wellbeing goals should be closely aligned from one jurisdiction to another. To execute this, any goal setting or policy making should come from the top of organisation, with the right people recruited in each of country or office, so that rollout can be as tailored and culture-specific as possible.
This may involve localising and translating any content created or circulated by the company and liaising with local wellbeing practitioners and experts to ensure the initiative is suited to its workforce.
You can find out more about how Happence helps businesses create happier and healthier workforces, visit www.happence.com.