Economic uncertainty can have a huge effect on employees’ mental health, whether they are an EU national worrying about what Brexit will mean for them, somebody aggrieved by the outcome of the referendum, or unsure about their job security. This World Mental Health Day, Amy McDonald, founder of Headtorch, explains how employers can support worried staff.
We live in unpredictable times: economically, technologically and politically our world is changing.
Both businesses and employees are feeling the pressure of trade wars, poor exchange rates and, of course, Brexit. All of this causes uncertainty for organisations, making them stall on big decisions.
This insecurity affects employees’ mental health, especially if they do not know how to react or plan for change.
Linda Craig, a clinical psychologist, explains: “Uncertainty is a huge precursor for mental illness. Just think about conditions like OCD, eating disorders, self-harming – they are born out of a need to introduce control in a chaotic world.”
In July the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found one in four managers were feeling Brexit-related blues at work.
Moreover, they are working an extra 44 days a year over and above their contracted hours, up from 40 days in 2015. The long hours are taking their toll, causing one in 10 to take sick leave for stress and mental health issues.
As a result, the CMI called on employers to provide greater support and training to managers.
At Headtorch, we deliver proactive learning and development to support and promote mental health at work. We believe there are many ways that occupational health practitioners and managers can reassure staff and ease uncertainty during these turbulent times.
The Health and Safety Executive has identified six key areas that cause stress – relationships, role, demands, support, change and control – which can be affected by the current volatility. When we get these areas right, they create a mentally healthy culture.
Relationships are especially important in times of uncertainty. Staff need to connect with each other and they perform better when they know and relate to one another. Brexit has divided many along bitter political viewpoints, so it has never been more important for them to collaborate and find mutual ground.
When faced with an issue, one of our clients takes the challenge to the team. They share thoughts openly – allowing people to feel they are contributing to the solution.
It is important for employees to notice of and appreciate how others are feeling and behaving. They should take time to talk to each other and, most importantly, listen. For any EU nationals this period of uncertainty will be particularly hard – managers should take note of this and listen to their concerns.
According to think tank the New Economics Foundation, there are five ways to increase our wellbeing; connect, be active, take notice, learn and give.
Today, on World Mental Health Day (10 Oct) we are encouraging organisations to take part in our Feeling Good At Work Initiative, which will help staff engage with these wellbeing traits.
Managers and employees should focus on the positive aspects of the current economic and social climate, have fun, think creatively and reflect on what makes them feel good.
It is easy to moan about the things that annoy us or get us down at work, but this rarely helps. Organisations should instead find out what makes people feel good at work by asking staff to take some time out of their normal working day to share what makes them feel happy – the activity itself is very simple and participants can decide whether to complete the challenge individually or as a team.
Managers should ask teams or individuals to complete the following sentence: “What makes me feel good at work is…”
Relationships are especially important in times of uncertainty. Staff need to connect with each other and they perform better when they know and relate to one another.”
Then create an image to reflect their answer to the following: “When I’m feeling good at work it’s like…”. For example, they could use a photo of their team, a picture drawn by the team, or a collage of words and images drawn on sticky labels.
Participation will be great for staff wellbeing, especially if they complete it as a team. The tasks invite them take notice of what is going on around them, which will help them feel calm.
They will also be sharing their thoughts, ideas and creativity. People who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy.
Keeping minds active
Learning and development should also be encouraged and will help keep employees’ minds stimulated and reduce feelings of depression.
In addition to professional L&D, employers could perhaps set up a book club, a choir or language lessons at work.
Staying active is also important for wellbeing. Staff at one company we work with go for a daily walk, while others have walking meetings. Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups.
Work should be a place that encourages sustained, integrated participation in the five ways of wellbeing. Many organisations are doing this well, but there is still more that can be done in such uncertain times.