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Meaningful mental health starts with compassion

Jolawn Victor, Chief International Officer - Headspace
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A recent study by IFS found that mental health has worsened substantially (by 8.1% on average) as a result of the pandemic. More than two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) reported feeling somewhat or very worried about the effects Covid-19 is having on their life, with 56% experiencing stress or anxiety.

Pre-pandemic, leaders had already begun to recognise the crucial role they had to play in the health and wellbeing of their staff. Covid-19 has undoubtedly accelerated this trend, driving more leadership teams to implement workplace wellbeing initiatives, and committing further to help the mental wellness of their staff.

While promising, our research has found that more than half of UK workers (54%) do not feel that mental health benefits are a priority in their organisation. Support from management is expected by employees, with the same research revealing that employees think mental health benefits are essential – not just for helping them manage stress and anxiety during Covid-19, but for ensuring they enjoy their work and perform to the best of their ability.

Start with compassion
While businesses are often interested in improving the wellbeing of their workforce, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start. The first step is to practice compassionate leadership. Business leaders and senior HR personnel should encourage all managers within the business to check-in with their staff on a regular basis, whether they are still working remotely or from the office.

During these check-ins, leaders should be keeping an eye out for any unspoken signs of stress or worry and encourage employees to open up about struggles they may be facing. Managers should take the time to understand the unique stress points different individuals are facing so that they can identify how they can support them in the right way.

Empathy is our ability to understand each other’s feelings and perspectives and show compassion toward them. When we are able to stand in another person’s shoes and see life from their point of view — a situation, a belief, a struggle faced by a colleague — we are then better equipped to connect, without reactivity, on a human level.

Let the evidence guide your strategy
It’s important that workplace wellbeing strategies and resources are personalised, meaningful and evidence led to demonstrate efficacy and reassure workers. In fact, our research found that three quarters (76%) of UK workers believe it is very important that mental health benefits offered by their companies should be backed up by science.

Business leaders need to think more deeply about how they can build meaningful mental health programmes that genuinely make a difference and align with employee expectations. This means implementing mental health strategies that are evidenced through clinical studies and backed by scientific research. During this difficult period, it’s advisable to steer clear of any ‘tick box’ approaches to mental wellbeing support and focus on methods that are proven to work.

A healthy workforce makes a healthy business
Taking an evidence led approach to workplace wellbeing initiatives will benefit the company as a whole. Employers that avoid or take shortcuts in addressing mental health issues will struggle to get the best out of their teams and risk losing or failing to attract talent.

There are clear commercial benefits to having a happier and healthier workforce. When workers are calm and focused, they are much less likely to take time off sick, procrastinate or make mistakes. Headspace meditation has been shown to improve focus and reduce stress and job burnout. By implementing the right workplace wellbeing initiatives, leaders will help drive stronger business performance.

Take a holistic approach
It’s not simply a matter of providing a set of mental health resources to workers and treating that as a job done. To reap the benefits, these tools and techniques must be introduced as part of a wider wellbeing strategy that is integrated into the company culture. Leadership teams should focus on building an environment that is friendly, accommodating and encourages individuals to seek support when they need it.

Ensuring workers are able to achieve a healthy work-life balance and positive mental health routine is a great way to implement a holistic approach to employee wellbeing. Urging staff to log off on time and take regular breaks, while providing them with flexible working hours, will all contribute to improving their wellbeing. For example, Headspace has rolled out an every-other-Friday company-wide mental health day, that we call MINDays. This is a decided day for employees to focus on themselves and take a step back from work.

With employees working harder in a challenging economic environment, and as remote working can sometimes blur the lines between life and work, it is key that their employers do everything they can to support their wellbeing and mitigate the pressures they face.

Covid-19 is likely to have a long-lasting impact on our mental wellbeing, which is why it is essential for organisations to prioritise wellbeing initiatives that can make for a happier company culture and boost business performance in the long term.

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