Monkey Puzzle Blog

Mental health and employee wellbeing

Workplace predictions for 2021: Mental health and employee wellbeing

The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically altered the blog content covered by Monkey Puzzle across 2020. Many of our additional articles addressed the impact of the virus on the mental health of the workforce, and with good reason. It affected everyone, at all levels, both inside and outside of work.

With the country entering a new spell of national lockdown, mental health and employee wellbeing will be a huge issue for organisations as the line between work and home continues to blur. That’s why we’ve made it the focus of the first of two articles that look ahead to the world of work in 2021.


Mental health - leading by example

Despite increasing awareness campaigns, people are still reluctant to open up about their mental health issues at work. The threat of job insecurity makes many feel they should be seen to be OK, despite feeling otherwise. 2020 was the year when organisations needed to reassure their people that it’s ‘OK not to feel OK’. However, evidence suggests a sizeable number of leaders are still not leading by example.

According to new Bupa Global research, 42% of board-level executives feel their reputation would be harmed if it became known they were struggling and 39% said they would not seek help for fear of it impacting their social or professional standing. This only feeds the stigma around mental health and does nothing to help raise awareness of the issue so it can be managed.

In 2021 leaders will need to consider strategies to support employees mental health and wellbeing that work within our changing work patterns. Awareness training and preventative care will need to be high on the leadership priority list in order to build the resilience needed in challenging times. Ideally they’ll be able to lead by example, encouraging others to address their mental health issues.

However, there is some encouraging news that organisations are stepping up to the plate on mental health. Business in the Community found, via their ‘Mental Health at Work 2020’ survey, that 63% of employees feel that their organisation supports their mental health - up from 55% in 2019. To succeed in managing mental health issues in 2021 and beyond, this number needs to rise much higher still.

 

Burnout growing - and risks going unnoticed

When remote working happened almost overnight in the first lockdown, some organisations worried that employees may not work enough from home. In many instances the reverse happened. Anxious about proving themselves and with no one to see them ‘at work’, some felt the solution was to work even harder.

Monkey Puzzle Co-Founder Karen Meager has studied the burnout recovery process in partnership with Coventry University - finding that the condition is currently believed to affect between 10 and 18 % of the total working population.

One of the primary contributors to the ever growing problem with burnout is that the boundaries between work and non-work have become increasingly blurred. People who are already predisposed to compulsively work are particularly vulnerable to burnout in this new set up.

In the coming year increasing numbers of people will suffer from job-loss worries, work from home challenges, isolation, and feeling overworked. All of these have the potential to contribute towards burnout. Healthcare workers, executives, and small business owners will continue to be the top people to suffer from extreme burnout.

Managers, leaders and HR professionals are particularly vulnerable. During the pandemic they have become what is known as ‘Toxic Handlers’ - a term used to describe people whose job it is to filter other peoples' painful emotions. They will now have been doing this for nearly a year which is a significant emotional drain. They need to prioritise their own self care and organisations should provide additional support for this group of people through coaching or peer support groups.

Remote workers burning out because they work too much at home must not be allowed to become ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Work is about social connection where people’s relationship to work is an emotional thing. Organisations need to create a sense of community where people feel valued and supported. 


We’ve covered Burnout in recent articles on the Monkey Puzzle blog. If you are concerned about the issue, you may find these posts helpful.

Can you recover from burnout without leaving your job?

The denial phase of burnout that no-one talks about


Safety and wellbeing become a major employment differentiator

Employees have long had criteria on which to evaluate their ‘employment deal’. Salary, career progression, the kudos of the employer brand - all of these are set to take second place to safety and wellbeing. People need to feel safe before they can feel good about doing their jobs and being part of an organisation. How organisations manage this will be a major decider in selecting an employer or deciding to stay.

With health being everyone’s top priority, tolerance levels are likely to be extremely low towards anything that is seen to put safety at risk. Organisations should expect employees to hold them - and their co-workers - to account over anything they feel jeopardises their personal safety.

Employees have never had a problem with sharing opinions about their employers and employment experiences. Sites like Glassdoor exist as a platform to do just that. Expect shortcomings in safety and wellbeing provision to become the focus of social media chatter.

What’s more, just as employees may vote with their feet, increasingly so may customers. Research by Edelman Trust found that 90% of consumers want organisations to apply their best efforts into safeguarding the health and financial security of their employees. 


Managing social contact issues

A key positive contributor to wellbeing is social contact. Organisations should think carefully about how, when and for what purpose they start to bring teams together - and particularly when it is safe to do so. They will also need to think through how to keep workplaces safe to avoid an increase in health anxiety as employees have very different attitudes to safety protocols - such as the wearing of masks and one way systems etc.

These attitudes which have caused conflict and upset in the community will be exacerbated in the workplace where people have to work together. Organisations need to work hard to ensure these issues do not became a distraction or at worst, lead to bullying and other inappropriate workplace behaviours.

There are many issues to anticipate in achieving a workplace where people stay kind and respectful to each other. How will people feel when they see co-workers hugging, how will they react if they feel people are standing too close? What policies are needed re: mask wearing etc, particularly as vaccines get rolled out and more people feel invincible and some still feel vulnerable?

Organisations are going to have to take the lead on this rather than look to government guidance which is likely to remain very vague and unclear.


Employee wellness becomes every line manager’s concern

It will be HR teams and line managers’ roles to help employees manage the implications the crisis has had on their wellbeing. Their support is vital in creating a positive work environment and promoting wellness in the workplace. The pandemic continues to be an uncertain time for all, but there are plenty of ways organisations can help employees maintain positive mental health.

Regular one-to-one catch ups, or mental health first aiders and support groups, will go a long way in supporting those in need during across the coming year. Such will be the importance of managing employees’ workplace health (and the impact it has on productivity) that it could be embedded in line managers’ goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).


Conclusion

Mental health and employee wellbeing has come far in terms of being an accepted talking point with organisations and employees in recent years. The changing way we now work puts this at risk. Many of the issues that contribute to effective wellbeing are moving away from the visibility they need to be noticed and managed.

Organisations should be aware that swathes of their workforce are potentially absorbing more stress, out of sight of those that could spot the issues and help. Leaders and line managers therefore need to lead by example, keeping mental health and wellbeing centre stage. Those organisations that fail to put in place strategies to manage the wellbeing of their employees in 2021 and beyond are likely to find themselves held to account.


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