For Stress Awareness Month we hear from Dr Phillip McCrea of BHSF on how firms can support staff and their mental health during and beyond the current crisis.
As the result of decades of healthcare experience, BHSF practitioners know that life can prove a struggle at any point in time. However, with the current health crisis, the numbers of those feeling anxiety are far greater. Employers are now faced with helping their teams through a whole new set of mental health concerns; many have experienced problems for the first time and those who were already struggling are finding things even harder.
Navigating through these challenges requires tailored support and specialist skills, plus the concept of resilience needs to be more than a pandemic buzzword if we want to build better workplaces.
Personal resilience refers to how effectively you handle difficult experiences in your life. It is often described as the ability to ‘bounce back’ and comfortably carry on in the midst of adversity. It also involves being able to effectively regulate your thoughts and emotions, as well as perceiving challenging situations as an opportunity, not a personal threat. Some of us are naturally more resilient than others and how seriously we react to a specific stress can depend on what else we are facing along with the support and coping skills that we can readily draw upon.
There will always be a percentage of the population who have a genetic predisposition to anxiety and poor mental health. But the last year has naturally created multiple external stressors. These added burdens have had a seismic exogenous impact on our ability to cope.
Why it matters
With a resilient workforce, employees handle work stress better and can develop protective factors against it. There are other benefits too:
- Resilience is associated with greater job satisfaction, work happiness, organisational commitment, and employee engagement
- raising resilience contributes to improved self-esteem, sense of control over life events, sense of purpose in life and improved employee interpersonal relationships
- employers reap the rewards of increased productivity.
Resilience in the workplace
40% of workplace absence is due to mental health issues and this is projected to be in the region of 70% by 2023. For an organisation with 700 employees, the cost of absence may be £9k – £10k per day assuming absence costs £141- £168 per employee, per day and a 12% absence rate.
The longer an individual is off work, the harder it is to get them back. Think of your own micro experience through lockdown and how easy it is for institutionalisation to set in.
What can businesses do?
Your organisation’s managers are in a unique position to ‘spot and support’ struggling colleagues, yet highly vulnerable themselves to being overwhelmed. We shouldn’t assume that providing colleagues with the compassion required is something that comes naturally to all line managers. Establishing a strong support mechanism is key so that they can coordinate action early and turn to those with HR and clinical expertise.
‘I’m fine’ very often means someone is most definitely not. Dismantle the “I’m fine culture” by proactively offering up emotional support and instilling a culture of making it okay not to be okay.
Start at the top – if business leaders want their employees to acknowledge when things are not going well and they need support, nothing makes that happen more than when those at the top do exactly that themselves. You also have to look after yourself, before you can look after those around you: “put on your own oxygen mask first” to use an aeroplane analogy.
For many people, using their own resources and established strategies such as positive lifestyle management may be enough for building their resilience. But at times, an individual might get stuck or have difficulty making progress on the road to resilience. The pandemic has presented us all with complex issues we may never have encountered before. Therefore, access to personalized, on-demand advice and support from qualified mental and physical health practitioners, as well as access to financial and legal experts is key to overcoming the very specific struggles being faced during unprecedented times.
A personal crisis is often a unique – and increasingly complex – mix of factors. It may be borne out of a particular trauma but could be compounded by individual circumstances, such as debt worries or caring responsibilities. This is why it is critical that the support offered needs to be similarly personalised and rounded. It is about connecting people to a 360-degree package of emotional, financial, and legal support, yet with the depth required to reach those people who need specialist care quickly and easily.
The ability to respond promptly is crucial. If someone is in crisis, being told they can access mental health support in a few weeks or months is no good; they need help there and then. If an employee has a mental health issue, they need ‘in the moment’ targeted expert support and early intervention.
Some are seeing the COVID-19 pandemic as a wake-up call for workplace wellbeing with support never being as needed. Early intervention to tackle physical and mental health issues employees may be facing early on, is the urgent step required to significantly impact the emotional and financial cost of workplace absenteeism.