2020 was the year the world was turned on its head and recent studies suggest work-related stress has skyrocketed. Emily Pearson considers how home working, the UK government's furlough scheme and being on the front line have all had an impact and provides advice on how you can support your workforce.
The UK’s introduction of the furlough scheme was hailed as a key policy initiative. It has indeed provided respite from the potential economic damage for millions of workers and tens of thousands of organisations. But what of those workers who aren’t furloughed who now have more work to do, the impacts of home working, or having to work in a workplace where there is increased risk for key workers?
We’ve seen some unique impacts to certain industries such as healthcare, where workers are experiencing vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue due to some unique triggers dealing with the vulnerable and bereaved.
How are these new pressures going to be addressed in the medium- to long-term? A simple format solution broken down into evaluation, collaboration and ownership (ECO), alongside stress risk assessments/audits and tailored support programmes for employees can all be effective.
The idea of the ECO model is to relate it to what the true meaning of an eco-system means to us as humans, identifying the actual impact of the interactions between human beings and our environment. In the same way as we strive to create a healthy eco-system for the environment by taking into account all negative factors such as long term damage to the environment building in pollution to the overall equation; we also should do the same with work place culture and how we interact as humans together for the benefit of all.
In essence, work-related stress is managed using the ECO model in a three-stage process:
Evaluation should be done with people, not to people. A mental health self-evaluation tool can provide an instant temperature check of where an individual or groups’ state of mental health sits. Self-evaluation promotes early intervention and leads us into collaboration. Evaluations can also be done using the Health and Safety Executive's Stress Management Standards questionnaire tool, collated to provide robust data to identify what workplace triggers are causing excessive pressure and where the improvements can be made to mitigate those risks.
Effective evaluation leads to action requiring collaboration between individuals, their managers and the wider team and organisation to work together to implement the solutions or interventions. Create a support plan for individuals to collaborate with their managers on what action can be taken. These may include reasonable adjustments, but also a plan for the individual to take action to look after their own mental health. Your stress audit using the Management Standards Tool should be followed up with an action plan. Work-related stress and positive mental health at work is everyone’s responsibility; if ownership is not agreed and taken on by all involved, the best laid plans can still fall down.
The problems identified in the workplace will never be solved without ownership. The ownership of our own mental health and recovery, ownership of the actions we can take for the wider good, ownership of our responsibilities as manager, senior leader or employer. One does not work without the other. In fact, ownership taken by the few foments unrest, distrust, lack of productivity, and generally an unhappy workforce. This can become self-perpetuating, creating further workplace discord and stress – something witnessed unsurprisingly time and again in the real world.
Promoting the foundational elements of evaluation, collaboration and ownership allows everyone, from top to bottom inside an organisation, to develop the skills and knowledge they need to look after their own mental health. This is essential in 2020, when now more than ever, we need to work together to challenge the rising tide of poor mental health in the workplace, and our communities, as we all come to grips with the unprecedented global event that is COVID-19.
Emily Pearson is founder and managing director of corporate mental health training consultancy Our Minds Work