Written by Jodie Case

As we begin 2021 in lockdown again, it is vital as an employer to recognise the toll these challenging months may have taken on your people.

It is also essential that your managers are able to understand the stresses and anxieties their people may be experiencing and are equipped to support those who are struggling.

Mental health and resilience are closely linked, so supporting employees benefits your business in many ways – not least by making people feel more motivated, more capable of dealing with change, and therefore more productive.

Here are some of the reasons why you should make mental health, resilience and wellbeing a top priority:

For a better work-life balance

With lockdown restrictions in place, work-life balance is under the spotlight again. Many of us struggle to achieve the magic balance at the best of times but at home it’s easier to work longer hours and harder to relax, and that can have a negative effect on wellbeing. The result – tired, stressed workers whose performance may be affected, and who may want to move on.

An essential part of work-life balance is taking time out – to rest and reset. If staff have their head down at home, without colleagues to have a break with, or a train to catch, this can be easy to forget.

You could think about offering specific work-life balance support in the form of 121 coaching, or written guidance.  Setting a positive example from the top is vital to encourage employees to set sensible boundaries for themselves, so managers should avoid sending emails to their teams late in the evening, and visibly take lunch breaks and use their annual leave – this will ensure that team members recognise that the company culture is one of balance, and not “presenteeism”.

Having flexible working policies in place will also help – for example for parents who need to work around caring for children.

To reduce risk of burnout

Your business might have undergone changes over the past year which could mean your teams are feeling overwhelmed or burned out. Some employees may not be vocal about this, so you should teach managers to able to recognise it. A lack of engagement, motivation, fatigue and working long hours are just some of the things to look out for.

One thing you can do to help is give employees permission to slow down. Tell them to take longer breaks and time for ‘self-care’. ‘Self-care’ is simply about taking care of your physical and emotional health. Managers should raise awareness of this among their teams.

Re-engage burned-out employees by agreeing attainable, positive work objectives and introducing activities that can bring employees together in social ways – even if that means virtually.

To support furloughed employees

Work can give structure and purpose, and without that some of your furloughed team may be feeling lost and also isolated, being away from their colleagues. You should continue to check in with employees and support them throughout the furlough period because they may also be anxious about returning to work.

Returning from furlough isn’t just about the first day – concerns and anxieties may last for some time. Finding ways to reconnect employees, to their team and the wider organisation is important. This could include opportunities to socialise, employee engagement activities or refresher training which all support wellbeing and good mental health.

To encourage open conversations

Top-down support for mental health is essential. This will help remove stigma and encourage employees to seek help sooner.

Managers need to be aware of all resources available within the company, which might include an Employee Assistance Programme, Mental Health First Aiders or even “duvet days”. Managers should be familiar with the company’s policies, procedures and proper protocols to enable them to share these with their employees.

Training programmes

Structured resilience training and mindfulness programmes can teach employees techniques and tips on how to deal with pressure and recognise signs of stress in themselves. Line manager resilience training is equally important, they will be able to help hold teams together under pressure, as well as share stress management techniques with staff who need them.