The economic consequences of the pandemic are evident, particularly in the employment sector. The job market has reflected the insecurity within businesses, and unfortunately there has been a high volume of job loss as a result. As a recruitment consultant, I often see the fall out of this. Job security is a major contributor to mental wellbeing, and although it’s not a surprise to see my candidates and clients under strain, it doesn’t make it easier.
The pandemic isn’t just having a negative impact on “sectors” and “markets”. It’s affecting the mental health and wellbeing of regular people, myself included. This year has been tough for many people, and for some, this could be the first time they’ve felt like their mind is not their friend as isolation, anxiety and job losses have taken their toll.
But here, I’m going to focus on the silver lining. Today is World Mental Health Day, and this year, they’re campaigning to increase investment in mental health. It can be hard to prioritise mental health and be mindful of others when we’re all in “just get through 2020” mode, but thankfully, there are some simple things that businesses – and we as individuals – can do to create a working environment that better supports mental health and employee wellbeing. Here are a few of my favourites.
Destigmatise mental health at work
For some people, workplace stigmas attached to mental health are still very much as issue. This can be a work in progress, as it can take years of unlearning behaviours and negative attitudes towards mental health. However, you can start now. All it takes is one person to stand up and say: “mental health is important, so how can we help each other?” Regular communication about wellbeing from leaders and between the team will eventually lead to a wider understanding and a more open culture. Letting employees know it’s okay to take a mental health day – a day off to rest, destress, and reset – is also a great step in the right direction when it comes to destigmatising mental health at work.
Introduce mental health first aiders
Think about it. If you suffer an injury at work, in any office, there’s a first aid kit and a trained first aider on hand. But who would know what to do if you, or one of your colleagues, had a stress-induced panic attack? Implementing policies and procedures that support mental health can be highly effective – and training up some mental health first aiders sounds like a great idea to me. MHFA offers affordable, evidence-based online courses that give people the first aid skills they need to support people with mental health problems. Research has also shown that people who are trained in mental health first aid demonstrated improved knowledge, confidence, attitudes and helping behaviour when it comes to mental health. As an employer, providing official training in this area also sends out a highly positive message: mental health is important.
At Accountancy Options, regular video catch ups have been really important to us. At the beginning of the week we tend to have more official meetings, but as the weekend creeps closer, we also have a lighthearted quiz or game to replace our usual Friday after work drink. Whether it’s regular check-ins and 121s or meme sharing and virtual Yoga classes – whatever companies can do to make the team feel valued and part of a community is important.
On the recruitment side of things, we’ve been taking more time with our candidates and listening closely to their frustrations with the current jobs market. Knowing how competitive it is for them, given the reduction in advertised roles, we’ve been making a conscious effort to brief them fully on roles and keep them posted each step of the way to help relieve their anxiety. We’ve also been prepping them more thoroughly for interviews, including practicing with them on any new platforms for video interviews, providing prompt interview feedback and plenty of advice for the future if their interviews didn’t go as well as they hoped.
Practice active listening
Active listening is probably the simplest, most effective tool we all possess – but it doesn’t come naturally to us most of the time, particularly at work. Active listening is the art of completely focusing on someone when they are speaking while keeping an open mind and using non-verbal cues to show that you’re engaged. By consciously listening, you can stay present during conversations, retain information more easily, and build trust between yourself and your colleagues. I’ve been trying to do this myself recently both inside and outside of work, and I can already see the impact it’s made. I’ve noticed that people seem to be more comfortable opening up around me and my relationships with my colleagues are getting even stronger, despite the physical distance between us.
Support a speak-up culture – but respect that everyone is different
Encouraging people to speak up about how they’re feeling can give them a sense of psychological safety and make them feel more comfortable when it comes to talking about mental health. However, at work this can be a balancing act. Your colleagues (as much as they are also your friends) may still prefer not to share their inner thoughts and feelings with you if they want to keep things strictly professional. For some, just the knowledge that there is a strong support system in place if needed is enough when it comes to work, whereas others may need more. No matter what, try to let people know that they have your support if they need it, and never offer unsolicited advice or downplay a condition just because it can’t be seen.
This year has highlighted the importance of mental health more than ever, and it’s never too late to start making positive changes at your company so you can offer better support. I hope these suggestions help!
Natasha Jordan, Senior Recruitment Consultant, Accountancy Options
Natasha is a hands-on recruiter specialising in accounting and finance support. With ten years of experience across Melbourne and the U.K, Natasha has supported hundreds of people throughout the hiring process. A compassionate recruiter, she always goes the extra mile to support her team, her candidates and her clients.