By Olivia Perry

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), an annual campaign run by the Mental Health Foundation to help Kiwis understand what boosts their wellbeing and improves mental health.  Amid a global pandemic, where we’re experiencing lockdowns, working from home and extremely challenging times, it’s more important than ever to value our mental health and the health of those around us. This year’s theme for MHAW is to take time to kōrero/mā te kōrero, ka ora – a little chat can go a long way.

Conversation in a workplace can be a powerful tool to support well-being. Even a small question such as “Are you okay?” can make a big difference to someone’s day, or potentially change their life.

On top of creating space for kōrero around well-being and mental health, there are many ways that workplace leaders can build a safe and supportive work environment. In this article I highlight some tips to help employers to support mental health during a pandemic.

Mental health warning signs to look out for at work

Workers often spend much of their lives at work, and employers may be in one of the best positions to recognise the early warning signs of poor mental health. Such signs vary between person to person, but may include:

  • Increased absenteeism or tardiness.
  • Looking tired and seeming stressed.
  • Having trouble concentrating, making decisions and managing multiple tasks.
  • Being unusually emotional and getting frustrated with people.
  • Avoiding social activities.
  • Outbursts and mood swings.
  • Sitting alone at lunchtime.
  • Unable to accept negative feedback.
  • A change in personality or attitude.

Tips employers can use to support mental health during a pandemic

Use this opportunity to reduce the stigma: often the fear of stigma inhibits some employees from reaching out for the support they need. Mental health can be a difficult topic to bring up with an employer, so where an employer starts the conversation, this can lessen the stigma while raising awareness of the issue. MHAW is a good platform for you to use to start conversations about mental well-being and show employees you’re willing to listen and provide support.

Unplug: for some employees, working from home can mean feeling ‘plugged in’ all the time, which can cause extra work-related stress. As an employer, encouraging your employees to switch off at the end of the day and try to go for a walk, spend time with family or purely just take time for themselves, can foster a stress-free environment and promote a healthy work-life balance; your employees’ health and happiness ultimately benefits both them and the overall productivity of your business.

Communicate: in a world of lockdowns and uncertainty, employees’ sense of insecurity and stress are heightened. A good leader will show initiative by instigating conversations to show empathy and provide mental health guidance. This could include encouraging regular group and individual check ins (even if online), introducing initiatives to maintain employee morale such as social events, reward and recognition programs with employee ‘perks’, and promoting a larger conversation about overall well-being. Remember, a little kōrero or chat can have a mighty impact. The more you practice these conversations (during MHAW is a great place to start) the more natural they will become at work.

Provide support: ensure your employees know where to access mental health support if they need it. Whether this is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hosted by your business, or one the many free support services such as Lifeline (0800 543 354) and Youthline (0800 376 633), it’s important that you provide clear instructions for how employees can reach out to mental health services.

If you would like to reach out to our Telephone Advisory Service to ask what you can put in place to help your employees during this time please call the 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service.

Not an HR Assured customer yet? If you’d like to try our award-winning Telephone Advisory Service for FREE contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

Olivia Perry is a qualified Workplace Relations Consultant at FCB Group (our parent company) and HR Assured. She regularly provides advice to a large range of clients in relation to workplace laws and management of complex workplace matters.