World Mental Health Day 2021: Workplace Mental Health and the Return to Work

World Mental Health Day 2021: Workplace Mental Health and the Return to Work

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Mental health is an integral part of our lives. For many of us, the same can be said about our work. Consequently, the integration of the two is an issue that requires great attention and care. Workplace mental health has been particularly pertinent in recent times, as COVID-19 and resulting restrictions have caused increased levels of fear, anxiety, and depression.

This year, World Mental Health Day takes place on Sunday, 10th of October. This important date comes at a particularly apt time, as many people undergo the stressful process of returning to their workplace. For some, this will be a relatively minor change and for others it will take a considerable amount of adjustment. In any case, the change is likely to cause at least some level of stress and anxiety to many.

Poor workplace mental health can lead to other issues such as absenteeism, high levels of staff turnover, and lowered productivity. (Source) (Source) As an employer, it is worth addressing your organisation’s capacity to cultivate an environment that promotes positive mental wellbeing throughout this period of change.

Below, we have outlined a number of measures you can take to do this.

Communicate Clearly

Uncertainty often causes or exacerbates stress and anxiety, so clear communication between employers and staff is essential.

Specifically, many people may experience heightened health anxiety prior to and during their return to the workplace. To allay these concerns, assure all staff that you are complying with public health guidelines. Make them acutely aware of any COVID-related protocols that are present in the workplace, such as hand hygiene procedure and physical distancing restrictions. You can do this by providing induction training prior to employees’ re-entry, or by placing signage around the workplace. Employers should also have a clearly defined COVID-19 response plan in place to manage incidences where a member of staff shows symptoms or is a confirmed case or close contact. (Source) Some staff members may have been on furlough, in which case you should have a strategy in place to transition them back to the workplace. Measures can include a phased re-entry or setting out a plan for their return. (Source)

To relay all necessary information to your staff, you can provide a company-specific orientation or induction session to brief your employees on what they should expect. According to regulations, you must also provide general COVID-19 induction training. (Source) Provide guidance or training to line managers also, so that they can impart this information to their respective teams. They should be aware of the potential effect that this transition period may have on employees’ mental health and should be clear on their responsibilities in terms of catering to this. (Source)

Assess and Adapt

As well as assessing your workplace for physical hazards, it is recommended to undertake a mental health related risk assessment. This process requires the same steps as any risk assessment i.e., identifying and assessing the risk, and subsequently taking steps to address it. (Source) Risks here could include stressors such as uncertainty around health and safety protocols, or increased workloads due to higher rates of employee absence. To foster a sense of positive mental wellbeing in your workplace, particularly during this stressful period, it may be necessary to make accommodations such as adjusting workloads, deadlines, and schedules. (Source)

Along with these preventative measures, you must also have a plan in place to deal with issues that may arise. If an employee discloses an issue related to their mental health, organise a meeting with them to discuss the issue. They should be reassured of confidentiality and encouraged to speak openly and avail of mental health supports. During this meeting, you should also arrange a plan for any adjustments that need to be made to their working situation. Brief the employee on what supports are available and arrange for others to be provided if needed. In the case of complex cases, you can seek support from mental health professionals. If there is an emergency, and/or you feel that an individual may be in immediate danger, you should contact the emergency services on 999. (Source)

Take measures to cultivate positive mental wellbeing in your organisation. This may include offering counselling, occupational health services, or if such services are not available internally, signposting employees to external support. (Source) If your workplace already offers such services, conduct an audit of them to ascertain whether they have the capacity to handle a potential increase in demand. (Source)

It is also important to consider the mental wellbeing of managers and HR professionals, who have been under considerable pressure to respond to a continually evolving situation, as well as managing their existing duties. It is important to remind them to monitor their own mental wellbeing and seek support if needed. (Source)

How We Can Help

At Ayrton, we are committed to promoting workplace health and safety, and we recognise the importance of workplace mental health as an aspect of our overall wellbeing. Our course, ‘IOSH Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing’, is designed to train managers and supervisors to improve health and wellbeing across their organisation. Participants are taught how to recognise a ‘well’ employee, what to consider in a health needs assessment, and the importance of managing fluctuations in people’s health. Find out more here.

You can also find out more about the return to work in relation to public health guidelines in our previous blog post.

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