It was World Mental Health Day recently, and employee wellbeing is most certainly a global concern. With that said, a subject like this is too important to be restricted to only one week isn’t it? Simon Fillery, former Global Head of D&I at Barclays and now D&I consultant at diversity and inclusion experts Included, is keen to make the point that help should be ongoing:
“I think it’s absolutely vital that employers are able to support employees; it’s a key part of the way that individuals perform in the workplace. We all have our mental health and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.
“If employers really want to be able to try to get the best out of people, they have to recognize the fact that sometimes people are not going to be performing at their best, particularly at the moment, post-COVID.”
It’s important not to conflate mental health with wellbeing though, Simon continues:
“I think the two are very different things, but they’re almost two sides of the same coin. And there are a number of different initiatives that organizations can put in place together to try to support employee wellbeing.
“On the mental health side, certainly one of the key things that I’ve seen is organizations going out and talking about the issue, trying to destigmatize what’s been going on over the past 10-15 years. The conversation has moved on massively, which is fantastic to see.
People are having honest conversations and showing vulnerabilities in ways that we haven’t seen in the past which is great.
It’s part of that whole holistic approach that shows it’s not just down the line managers, it’s not down to HR decisions, it’s that everyone’s really trying to look after each other and be kind to each other. That’s really important.”
Existing inequalities in the workplace play their part and can affect mental health. And that’s an employer responsibility too.
“Do inequalities exist in the workplace? Absolutely. How difference is perceived in organizations and how people are included in the workplace is absolutely vital to make people feel that they can perform their best.
“To use me as an example: I identify as a gay man, so I’ve experienced this. In the workplace, I was covering for the fact that I was gay and I was using a huge amount of mental energy to cover up this fact.
“Think about the amount of time and effort it would take to have to lie about who you are because you’re scared of that fear of rejection, or the way that your colleagues are going to react.
“Now, if you look at other forms of diversity when they come into play in the workplace, and you could use mental health as an example, if you’ve got someone who’s been suffering with a particular mental health issue, and they don’t feel they can talk about it in the workplace, or they can’t share that with at least a few individuals, the pressure will have an impact on their work.
“And if you really want to get the best out of people, you need to make sure that you can break down some of the stigma around those differences that people bring to work, and really try to make sure that they feel included in the workplace, so they can bring their whole selves.”
It’s clear we’re not going back to a fully stocked workplace, but it will probably vary for different companies. Businesses definitely need guidance on supporting everybody’s mental health at work in a remote or hybrid environment.
Consulting your employees
“I think now is the time for managers to have these conversations. There’s a real opportunity here to be able to take some of our recent practices and build them into life every day.
“The fact that we’ve managed to prove that homeworking is something that can work is now going to be here to stay as far as I’m concerned.
“And organizations that embrace it are going to be the ones that are really going to be successful in the future. So what are the practical things that people can do to lean into that? First, ask what’s worked and what hasn’t? What could be done differently?
“What I’ve seen is some teams have agreed a working pattern where they have a couple of days where they’re in the office or together so they can get some of those water-cooler moments, and then they also agree that there’s more flexibility around the off days of the week, when people can choose whether or not they want to come into the office.
“So, don’t be afraid to ask and sit down with your line manager and have a conversation about what you really want. I would recommend that you try to flex and come up with some innovative solutions, or think about different ways of working that will really try and help people to produce their best.
It’s been a terribly tough time and I think now’s the time to be kind to people where you can.”