Everyone has mental health – good and bad. Each day we are affected by a range of positive and negative factors which affect our level of stress and anxiety. And we are living through a perfect storm, as the pandemic continues to impact us all. In our latest rep learning event on 22 October, 95 members came together to hear what our key speakers from TfL and Morgan Sindall had to share about managing mental health in the workplace during this challenging time.

Why are we talking about it now?
One in four of us will experience mental health problems in our lifetime. People living with mental health problems contribute an estimated £226bn (12.1%) to UK’s GDP[1].
So, it’s not surprising that supporting people’s mental health is high on the agenda for most. And the current crisis will only make it more relevant. Errol Dinall, Psychotherapist at TfL and speaker at our event, suggests that nationally, up to 10 million people will need new or additional mental health support as a result of the pandemic.

Spotting the impact
Covid-19 turned people’s lives upside down - abruptly. We’re feeling constrained from living our ‘normal’ lives. Many are worrying about an uncertain future, and some are struggling financially. Those still working might get a boost from ‘doing their bit’ but may be at greater risk of workplace abuse and anxiety about infection. This can all lead to stress and anxiety and heighten the risk of negative events further affecting mental health – alcohol abuse, relationship tensions, worsening existing mental health conditions.
Errol spoke about four dimensions of the impact of stress and anxiety:

  • Physical changes such as stomach problems, tension.
  • Negative thinking such as loss of confidence, confusion and forgetfulness.
  • Emotional expression such as paranoia, anxiety, getting easily upset, numbness.
  • Behavioural changes such as fatigue, sleep difficulties, self-harming (e.g. junk eating, alcohol), withdrawal.

We need to be alert to these, both in our colleagues and within ourselves.

Taking care of yourself
Managers are not immune from the current climate, and it’s very difficult to help others when you are suffering yourself. Self-care is not a luxury. Judith Devine, Safety Health and Environment Manager for Morgan Sindall, shared some examples of how they have been helping people to build their resilience and look after themselves. As well as introducing more flexible working to make the transition to home working easier, they have been holding regular events such as open calls with senior colleagues that any staff member can join. They have also been sending newsletters to people at home and posting face masks to all staff.

It’s important to identify resources which you can draw upon to care for yourself and build resilience. Errol suggested a few: your favourite places; objects that make you feel good; people you can rely on; resources in the organisations you belong to; tapping into your values and beliefs; and activities which help make you feel better.

The importance of empathy
The event explored what can be done to help people returning to work – whether it’s following a mental illness or after a period of furlough or working from home during the pandemic. Errol said a common problem is a lack of empathy. The first point of moving forward is to listen and really hear what a person is saying. Just being heard can significantly change the mindset of someone who is anxious about returning to work.

Responding to the challenge
TfL have run a training programme for line managers recognising that they often represent the ‘frontline’ of wellbeing management and are gatekeepers to pathways of support. But they are often ‘pinched in the middle’, trying to support individuals and comply with business procedures. The sessions covered four themes:

  • Initiating and engaging in difficult conversations – normalising the associated sensations, embedding empathy.
  • Spotting the signs – destigmatising and promoting the acceptance of mental illness, recognising personal limitations and when it’s time to refer on.
  • How to improve mental health – how to tap into resources, modelling good behaviour.
  • Referring on - and the importance of doing so.

Judith shared the model that Morgan Sindall adopted to support the mental health of staff during the pandemic:

  • Communications - Daily bulletins from the managing director updated staff on government decisions and their impact on Morgan Sindall.  Social events such as virtual pub quizzes included those on furlough, and weekly check-ins with furloughed staff.
  • Care - Working patterns changed to suit home working, and people were provided equipment to help with this. A regular programme of contact, including posting newsletters to people’s homes, to ensure nobody felt left out.
  • Consultation - Dynamic human risk assessments factored in the impact of anxiety and a lack of control, and site operating procedures were amended to factor in the risks of returning to premises.
  • Consideration - Staff were reminded of the employee assistance programme, and 39 mental health first aiders have now been trained.  Morgan Sindall provided ‘dealing with change’ and ‘resilience’ counselling for the few staff affected by redundancy.

If you’d like to find out more, contact us on enquiries@ciras.org.uk and we will put you in touch with our speakers. You can view the webinar in our members’ portal – let us know if you need us to resend your login details.

[1] https://www.ciras.org.uk/articles/2020/why-supporting-mental-wellbeing-is-measurably-good-for-business/