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Important workplace mental health lessons learned from lockdown

Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health - Bupa UK Insurance

We have seen an increase in mental health conditions over the past year, with 60% of UK adults reporting their mental health declined during this time.

Over the past year we have faced lots of change both at home and work, with many of us adjusting to remote working overnight.

Research* has revealed pressure was the most common cause of work-related stress in 2020, with many of the UK workforce experiencing mental health conditions such as burnout and “boreout.”

Last year many of us turned to Google for support and advice. Based on what we’ve all been researching online, here are the five mental health lessons we can learn from lockdown:

Lesson 1: It’s important to take regular breaks
A mental health condition we have seen increasingly affect employees is burnout. Over the last year, Google UK searches increased by 45%.

Burnout is experienced when we’re under high levels of pressure and stress at work. Often the amount of stress feels uncontrollable, leaving us to feel negative about work, emotionally exhausted and lacking motivation.

To reduce your risk of burnout, make sure you’re taking regular breaks away from your desk. You’ll be surprised at how energised and relaxed you’ll feel after taking a short break.

In addition, make sure you take up your annual leave – you’ve earned the time off. And in order to completely switch off, avoid checking your emails while you’re away.

If you’re experiencing burnout, it’s important to discover the source. Ask yourself, are you working on a stressful project? Or is your workload too high?  Addressing the root of the problem can be helpful in reducing or preventing the symptoms of burnout.

In addition, sharing how you feel with someone you trust can help reduce its effects. If you’re finding yourself under high levels of stress, talk to your manager about the ways you can work together to reduce some of the pressure.

Lesson 2: Not being challenged enough can leave you feeling fatigued
Over the past year we have seen an increase in UK employees experiencing boreout. In 2020, searches for ‘boreout’ increased by 680%.

Boreout is experienced when we feel as though our work is easy, repetitive or doesn’t mentally challenge us. The symptoms of boreout are like burnout – you’ll feel anxious, stressed and fatigued. However, the main difference between the two mental health conditions is workload – if you suffer from boreout you won’t feel as challenged or engaged with your work.

One lesson we have learned from experiencing boreout over the past year is the importance of opening up about how you feel – speaking to someone you trust about how you’re feeling can be a huge relief. For example, speaking to your manager can help you both identify ways you could add more responsibility to your role.

Similarly, as a manager, spotting the signs of burnout (fatigue, stress and anxiety) in your team early can help you to support them and reduce the risk of boreout. Make sure any mental health support your workplace offer is clearly communicated and accessible.

Lesson 3: Too many video calls have left us feeling exhausted
Last year we saw search volumes for a new search term ‘zoom fatigue’ fluctuate. This new phenomenon describes the worry and fatigue we experience when using virtual platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Teams to communicate – which is something many of us will have experienced during the pandemic.

When communicating through a screen, our brains need to work harder to make up for the lack of missing information, such as body language and facial expressions. Some may worry about being disrupted by family members, background noise or technical glitches – all these factors can contribute to Zoom fatigue.

If you’re experiencing Zoom fatigue, try limiting the number of video calls you take each day. Ask yourself whether this meeting needs to take place or if can you communicate via email, messages or the phone.

Similarly, whilst on a video call try to avoid multitasking by checking emails or completing another task; this will allow you to focus at the task at hand.

Lesson 4: Career development is important for our mental wellbeing whilst working remotely
Promoting your team to further their skills helps to build a resilient, engaged, and motivated workforce.

During 2020, we saw searches for ‘online learning’ increased by 400%. With so much change over the last year, learning something new has given many of us something positive to focus on.

Learning a new language, skill or mastering a new hobby all contribute to developing your skillset – further learning doesn’t need to be directly linked to your current role and may open you up to new opportunities for career development and growth.

As a manager you can lead by example and share further learning opportunities with your team. However, you should emphasise that further learning is voluntary and not compulsory, as many members of your team may feel their time is more stretched than ever – especially as we navigate our way through the “new normal.”

Lesson 5: A morning routine helps set you up for a great day
Following a morning routine is beneficial for your health as it can help reduce stress and improve your quality of sleep, helping you feel ready to tackle the day ahead.

After experiencing so much change over a short period of time many of us have found it hard to form a consistent morning routine – and we’re not alone in this. In 2020, Google UK searches for ‘morning routine ideas’ increased by 56%.

There is no one way to create a morning routine; you can structure your usual behaviours like making your bed and catching up with the morning news. Or, why not take the opportunity to form new morning habits, like heading outside for a walk or finding the time for an early morning workout?

Remember – your morning routine should be unique to you and your needs. To make sure your day gets off to a great start it’s important to find what works for you.

*Research from BUPA

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