Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England's director of people, Sarah McIntosh, offers OSH professionals advice on how to manage workers' mental health during the lockdown.
1. Be flexible and compassionate
These are unique and extraordinary times which will be challenging for all of us in different ways. Examples such as having children who would ordinarily be at school or elderly relatives who require assistance will add to the stresses and strains of everyday life. Encouraging flexible working hours and paying extra attention to workload management will help people balance their ‘work’ and ‘home’ lives.
2. Encourage best practice for staff working from home
Not everyone will be used to remote working. Simple things like properly setting up a workspace that is separate from ‘home’ space, taking regular screen breaks, and clearing away at the end of the day can help people switch off their ‘work mode’ and decompress. Exercise, eating well, and practicing self-care can also have a big impact on mental and physical wellbeing. Our guidance document has plenty more tips on managing mental health while working from home.
3. Connect authentically
Remember that with most of us working remotely, there is less room to bump into each other, chat organically, or discuss concerns we might have. Arranging more informal sessions such as a remote team coffee every morning can help teams stay connected and reduce feelings of isolation. At MHFA England we’ve even started collaborative music playlists, virtual yoga sessions, and a company radio station to get to know each other better and maintain our culture of support and collaboration. These activities can even include any staff who may have been furloughed. You can check out our My Whole Self campaign for more ideas.
4. Make time for supportive conversations
As a Mental Health First Aider I’ve had to think about ways to adapt giving support for people who may be struggling with their mental health in a remote setting. Start by applying the same principles of having a supportive conversation as you would in person – set enough time aside, minimise distractions around you (you may need to move to another room), and give the person your full focus by turning off your notifications and other devices. Whether you’re a Mental Health First Aider or just someone who wants to ensure they are supporting colleagues effectively during this period, you can read our updated guidance on providing support remotely here.
5. Don’t pour from an empty cup
When supporting your staff’s wellbeing it’s important to remember to prioritise your own wellbeing. This will give you the best possible chance of providing effective support. Consider the support measures you have around you, whether that’s an Employee Assistance Programme, a peer support network, or Mental Health First Aiders, and encourage others to do the same.