Time to Talk Day is an annual event which highlights the importance of having frank and open conversations about mental wellbeing. During COVID-19, these conversations are more important than ever with a workforce spread across countries, juggling life and work and coping with a national lockdown.

As such, HRreview asked Neil Shah, Founder, Director and Chief De-Stressing Officer at Stress Management Society, to offer key tips on how employees can be supported.

Is Your Organisation Doing Enough to Support Your Workforce?

COVID-19 has brought this nation to its knees. Whether it’s from the direct impact of the virus itself or the consequences of the lockdowns and everchanging restrictions, the fallout has had a devastating impact on every aspect of our society.

The nation’s health and wellbeing has suffered significantly. Getting access to treatment for non–Covid related illnesses has become harder. Mental health has declined as our social support, human contact and ability to take holidays and engage in culture, arts and leisure activities has become next to impossible. Gyms and sports activities are closed. Access to spiritual activities has also been limited, as has freedom of expression. Despite the promise of support, the financial impact has left many unable to afford basic necessities and reliant on food banks. The unprecedented economic squeeze continues to destroy many businesses and there seems to be little hope of a speedy recovery.

The constant reminder of the death toll serves to keep us in fear, as well as being a heart-breaking reminder of the human cost of this tragedy. Sadly, this doesn’t consider the excess deaths caused by the secondary impact of Covid. The number of those who are no longer with us due to postponed treatment or poor mental health resulting in taking their own life is not yet clear. This data threatens to surpass the number of those that have died directly as a result of the pandemic. All loss of life is tragic, regardless of the cause of death.

Time to Talk Day is an opportunity to start conversations about mental health and help end the stigma. This year’s event might look a little different, but the adversity we’ve all felt means that this dialogue is more crucial than ever. The theme for this year is ‘The Power of Small’ A small conversation about mental health has the power to make a big difference.

We know that the more conversations we have, the more myths we can bust and barriers we can break down, helping to end the isolation, shame and worthlessness that too many of us with mental health problems are made to feel.

Working in a New Abnormal World

The traditional concept of ‘standard working practices’ has been side-lined, making room for strict social distancing measures, working from home practices and even furlough. Many are juggling additional responsibilities, such as childcare and home-schooling.

A recent study by ORACLE and Workplace Intelligence showed that unsurprisingly, 2020 was the most stressful year ever. Out of the 12,000 participants:

  •  78 per cent say the pandemic has negatively affected their health.
  •  85 per cent say their mental health issues are causing sleep deprivation, poor physical health, reduced happiness at home, suffering family relationships or isolation from friends.
  •  76 per cent of workers believe that their company should do more to protect the mental health of the workforce.

In 2019/20, 828,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety (new or longstanding) and 17.9 million working days were lost due to these symptoms. (Labour Force Survey 2019/20)

These statistics indicate the disruption and cost of poor mental health and wellbeing, on both personal and organisational levels. During these challenging times, it’s paramount that employers understand the impact this can have on their workforce.

What can Businesses do to Help?

Creating a Culture of Wellbeing and Happiness

Building an organisational culture of wellbeing, happiness and success is a fundamental aspect in combating the widespread impact of poor mental health and wellbeing. Adapting priorities and ingraining a culture of wellbeing can require a considerable shift, however, the transformation offers numerous benefits for both employers and their employees.

Understand the True Cultural and Commercial Impact

It is easy to measure an organisation favourably based on financial aspects, growth and output. Unfortunately, this overlooks other key indicators that provide insight into the true state of an organisation – such as culture, people, mental health and wellbeing. It’s important to have a strong and robust business case backed by irrefutable data to show the true cultural and commercial impact on your organisation and ensure you have leadership buy-in.

We encourage organisations to destigmatise sensitive subjects such as Mental Health. To develop appropriate channels to raise concerns and ask for help or support in a confidential and sensitive way. There are a variety of resources that can be put into place to support your people – Employee Assistance Programme, Occupational Health, Staff Training, Counselling Services, Focus Groups, Employee Engagement Surveys and Wellbeing Audits.

Managerial Training and Awareness

Despite the widespread impact of poor mental health and wellbeing, the subject still has a strong stigma which continues to hinder openness and the ability to engage people in appropriate support early enough. It is not uncommon for these problems to be exacerbated and even caused by managers that are ill-equipped with the tools, skills and confidence to engage their people.

If you are to build an organisational culture of wellbeing, all managers must understand their role as champions and ambassadors. We recommend a ‘top-down, bottom-up’ approach, starting with the leaders and managers to ensure they understand the importance of investing time and energy in people, culture and wellbeing. This creates awareness, exploring the impact and introducing effective management techniques. There are a broad variety of training solutions available – ranging from off the shelf to bespoke. Given that the biggest investment you will make is taking your people out from the working environment, it’s very important to ensure that the content is tailored for the needs of your organisations and equips your managers to address and engage with issues/experiences that have been recognised. While off the shelf packages can beneficial, they may struggle to engage all participants and get to the heart of the issue. Due to this, we recommend investing in bespoke training solutions.

Mental Health Ambassadors and Wellbeing Champions

Team leaders and managers can often feel unprepared for hard-hitting conversations, unsure about how to approach delicate topics or concerned that are not equipped to be able to provide support. If the topic of poor mental health is not openly and sensitively addressed, employees may be deterred from raising the subject or seeking out support. In these instances, Mental Health Ambassadors and Wellbeing Champions courses are beneficial in equipping attendees with the skills required to be that first line of support.

Effective Support and Signposting to Wellbeing Resources

In any situation, it is possible that those struggling may require additional help from external services or mental health professionals. Effective signposting to appropriate support services and resources is imperative in a time when people are under more pressure than ever before. This provides a safety net when confidential support and access to counselling services has become increasingly difficult via the NHS.

This provides a confidential point contact and an opportunity to seek guidance from an impartial, external resource.

Although the current climate is extremely unsettling, it provides us with an opportunity to ensure we have robust support mechanisms in place for your people to navigate these challenging times. Employers have a role to play in healing our communities, via their staff, and helping the nation to recover from the devastating impact of COVID-19. Supporting and empowering their people will ripple out throughout society.

So, what are you doing to support your team?


* International Wellbeing Insights is the research and development arm of The Stress Management Society. To learn more, please visit their website.