The events of the past two years have tested our resilience in ways we could never have anticipated.
A global pandemic, physical and emotional health concerns, government imposed restrictions, and changed ways of working have all impacted on each of us since the crisis first began.
Many people have lost family members or friends to COVID-19 and have had no choice but to process their grief in the most difficult circumstances - and in many cases without being able to access essential support.
Studies suggest that the negative mental health impact of the pandemic is likely to last much longer than its physical health impacts. The ONS reports that since the start of the pandemic, the proportion of individuals showing symptoms of common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety has almost doubled.
The pandemic has forced many business leaders to review the way that they work. The directive to work from home back at the start of 2020 meant that many businesses, who had perhaps thought it was not possible for their teams to work efficiently from home, had no choice but to adapt and do things differently. Of course that has been disastrous for some organisations who couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt – people furloughed, jobs lost and in some cases businesses lost.
For those businesses that were able to adapt, there is no doubt that working at home, which many have done for much of the last two years, has brought some clear benefits – flexibility, zero commute, the potential for better work/life balance. For some though, these new ways of working and living may have increased social anxiety or created feelings of disconnection and isolation. Many have struggled with a lack of boundaries between home and work, resulting in a negative impact on home life and personal relationships.
In all organisations, across all business sectors, the need to protect mental wellbeing is extraordinarily high. According to research conducted by Deloitte, the cost of poor mental health across all business sectors is £1700 per employee employed, per year.
There has never been a more important time for business leaders to make workplace mental wellbeing a top priority, and to understand what steps need to be taken to create safe and healthy working environments for everyone.
So –what positive steps can business leaders take to further increase mental health awareness, and to develop individual and organisational resilience?
One of the unexpected outcomes of the past two years is that we have had an extraordinary insight into each other’s’ lives – a new perspective and a reminder of our ‘human-ness’.
Business leaders and their teams have worked at kitchen tables and from spare bedrooms – meeting via platforms like Zoom and Teams – with their lives carrying on around them.
We have seen each other dressed down, bare faced and perhaps at our most vulnerable. We have had to learn to manage our teams in new ways, to be vigilant for more subtle signals that our colleagues may be struggling and to support each other in different ways.
Before the pandemic, the phrase ‘bring your whole self to work’ may have been a nice idea. During the pandemic, it has become our reality – and we have had to be more understanding of the unique challenges that each of us faces.
As all the restrictions have finally lifted and we ‘return to normality’ we must continue to remember that we have all been impacted by the effects of the pandemic differently.
Some people still have high levels of anxiety. The mental and emotional impacts will last longer than the government restrictions.
The young people in our organisations, with less life and work experience, have lost out on valuable mentoring and guidance.
Those with existing mental health conditions may have just been surviving these last 2 years and may need extra support in order to thrive and achieve all they are capable of.
Businesses need compassionate leaders who are willing to lead the way on mental wellbeing, raising the conversation and taking action - ensuring as we move forward; workplace cultures where every person is supported to experience the best possible mental wellbeing.
Mental Health in Business