When non-essential workers vacated offices across the country on 23rd March, lockdown was still a novel concept. For many, it was a welcome break from the workplace – a chance to spend more time with family, flex green fingers and catch-up on a tsunami of bingeworthy TV. For others, it was a stressful transition away from the familiar cadence of everyday life.
Over six months on, with restrictions and government advice still fluid, it has become apparent that there will be no return to “business as usual” in the near future – if ever.
With World Mental Health Day approaching this Saturday, conversations about how to support mental wellbeing at work have become even more critical for employers. So, what have the last few months taught us here at FutureBrand?
We pride ourselves on the fact that, prior to lockdown, considerations around mental health were already embedded into the fabric of our office culture. Regular events and talks – from weekly yoga sessions, to deep-dives on financial wellbeing – were complemented with robust processes and internal employee support systems.
As a result, the first challenge we faced during lockdown was how to adapt these processes for a Work from Home (WFH) environment. Our primary concern was ensuring employees were able to work safely and efficiently from home. Solutions ranged from arranging for home office furniture to be delivered promptly, to supporting employees who chose to move nearer to friends or family, in the UK or abroad.
Later, as lockdown eased, conversations turned to facilitating employees’ potential return to the office. More than a straightforward operational undertaking – e.g. keeping desks sanitised and socially distanced – we found that mental health considerations were key to ensuring employees felt properly supported. Understandably, there are many of our colleagues who would still prefer to WFH, and it’s clear that continuing to take a sensitive, blended approach to working will be necessary in the months ahead.
Take a Personal Approach
Although it goes without saying that employee management should always be tailored to the individual, the nature of lockdown means that, now more than ever, the lines between the personal and professional are blurred. As a result, we’ve been working closely with all of our people managers to ensure they feel equipped to support those facing new challenges maintaining a work/life balance.
Two groups in particular have had to adjust quickly to an unfamiliar routine; parents and new joiners. For parents, childcare commitments may mean that a more flexible approach to working hours is required. Conversely, new joiners may feel they need to demonstrate an ‘always on’ mentality, and it’s crucial managers are able to support them in switching off at the end of the day.
Global CEONick Sykes
Turning a corner of your home into an office presents the danger of making employees feel as though they are living at work. However, in addition to helping them delineate office hours from personal downtime, we also wanted to ensure employees didn’t leave the best bits of the office behind.
To help recreate the camaraderie of “water cooler chat” we booked in regular tea breaks for individual teams, allowing employees to catch-up informally with colleagues as they would do at work. We found that, across the company, this helped alleviate the feelings of isolation and uncertainty associated with being in lockdown.
We’ve also strongly encouraged employees to keep taking holiday as they would normally. Granted, ever-changing restrictions on travel mean that most of us won’t be enjoying a destination holiday anytime soon but scheduling in time to unwind is still essential for maintaining good mental health.
Perhaps our most important lesson, however, is to simply keep moving. As we collectively adjust to the new normal of living through a global pandemic, keeping up momentum around career development and other work milestones is paramount to ensuring employees feel engaged and supported. We’ve begun to update existing processes to reflect our new reality and are gradually easing back into the familiar rhythm of working life, as is appropriate for each individual employee.
Global CEONick Sykes
Although we may not see each other in person for some time yet, we know that as a community we will continue to adapt to the challenges ahead. And, when it comes to supporting each other’s mental wellbeing, kindness and consideration are often the most powerful tools at our disposal.