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Top tips for employee mental health and wellbeing for the work transition

Chris Leung - LHH

Over the past few years, the understanding of employee wellbeing and its importance has definitely grown, and it’s safe to say that the events of the past year have accelerated this. Whether it’s worrying about the health of friends and family, continued anxiety over job security, cancelled social engagements or balancing a new working dynamic – the workforce has been tested on an unparalleled scale. And even though we are slowly edging out of lockdown, the issues presented by the pandemic will have a long lasting impact.

In light of Mental Health Awareness Week this week, here are some top tips for HR teams at this time.

1. Make wellbeing a top concern
The initial wellbeing challenges brought on by lockdown life are well discussed – but it’s important for businesses to consider wider wellbeing issues as we head out of lockdown and into a new normal. By understanding and proactively addressing these challenges, HR will be viewed more strategically by the board and will be better positioned to understand the impact these challenges will have on mental health and wellbeing.

2. Understand the impact of change fatigue
The upheaval and rapid organisational change that many of us experienced in 2020 has fundamentally changed how businesses implement change and how employees react to it. Businesses had no choice but to drastically change their day-to-day processes overnight, catching many off guard. As people we are very good at adapting, especially in the beginning, but after a year this resilience could very well be starting to wane, having a wide range of implications.

Research conducted by Gartner towards the end of 2020 found that an employee’s capacity to ‘absorb’ change without becoming fatigued has fallen by 50% compared to 2019. Change fatigue manifests itself in many different forms with these ranging from burnout and mental exhaustion, through to indifference and active resistance to change.

3. Understand the impact of navigating back to the office
With many companies currently looking at their ‘return to office’ plans, employers must understand the effects these changes may have on their staff. After working from home for over a year, some employees may be feeling anxious about re-adapting to social situations, crowds, public transport on the commute, etc.

There is bound to be a huge adjustment period for all employees, whether they are to remain working from home, will be going to the office or a mixture of both. All of these scenarios pose potential challenges so it’s important that a business gives voice to its employees throughout this period and really listens to their feedback.

4. Maintain constant communication
HR teams will need to keep very closely in tune with managers across the company, who need to be the eyes and ears in spotting when a colleague might be in trouble. The right structures will need to be in place to support when identified, and there needs to be good and regular comms to staff on the importance of good mental health, and the support available will promote a culture of people feeling they can speak up when they are not in a good place.

5. Carefully navigate change
As restrictions start to ease, businesses should continue to dedicate resources, time and flexibility to managing employee wellbeing and reduce the impact of change. More than ever before it’s important to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of our employees and imagine the change load they have experienced in the past year.

Ask leadership whether the introduction of certain changes are necessary and think about how they could be introduced in a way that’s least disruptive to employees. Empowering employees to co-create and continuously encouraging two-way communication is essential for reducing the cognitive load that change can bring.

6. Create a culture of inclusion
Remote working has highlighted the importance of support and inclusion on employee wellbeing. With many businesses likely to adopt a hybrid, flexible working system it’s vital this continues otherwise you risk some employees feeling left out of conversations or opportunities because they are not in the office.

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