As attitudes towards mental health change, KEITH ANDERSON says it means giving us all time to rest and switch off
As we all know, the consequences of Covid-19 have been many and varied and will last for many years to come. The public health crisis was the first and obvious priority, but of equal importance and more lasting impact are the implications for many of the delays in diagnosis and treatment of those medical conditions (including mental health issues) which have gone unnoticed or have been suffered in silence due to the pandemic.
As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to its conclusion it is worth pausing to think about mental health generally and where we are today compared with this time last year. The Mental Health Foundation, which is responsible for this initiative, deserves huge credit for its work to promote mental health with its focus on prevention. The phrase “prevention is better than cure” has been around for a long time and is a fundamental principle of healthcare, but has it ever been more apt today in the context of mental health?
Those in work at this time are, no doubt, grateful for that when they consider the fate of so many others caught in the full blast of Covid-19, and its after-shocks. The restrictions imposed on all businesses have presented huge challenges and especially for those sectors which rely upon footfall and surely there is even more pain to come for them.
So, the temptation for each of us may be just to get on with it, no matter the stresses and strains; not to complain and just be thankful for the opportunity to have work. That might have been expected in the past, but not in 2021. Surely, if we have learned anything from the last 12 months, it is the benefits of looking after each other, in our common humanity.
For the employer, what does this mean? Well, it requires an effective system for managing physical and psychological safety, underpinned by policies and procedures which support employee wellbeing, the aim of which should be prevention; and for the employee it means having the confidence to raise concerns about mental health issues before they get out of control, which of course will only ever be possible if the working environment supports that.
How much more difficult has that become since the beginning of Covid-19 and the enforced changes that have accompanied that? Remote working has been encouraged, and at times demanded of us, and with that has brought, for many, feelings of isolation and higher levels of anxiety. There is now more time to work because the lines between work and leisure have become so blurred and it will always be leisure that gets squeezed. This may be good for business, and productivity, in the short term but not in the long run if it leads to an exhausted or burned-out workforce.
That is why my business, which operates in the legal services market (which is not renowned for short working days), supports the Mindful Business Charter and we have just become signatories. The aim of the Charter is to remove unnecessary sources of stress and promote better mental health and wellbeing in the workplace… easier said than done and, especially now, because the workplace is everywhere.
‘There is now more time to work because the lines between work and leisure have become so blurred and it will always be leisure that gets squeezed’
Remote working has seen to that and the expectation across all business that those with whom you deal should respond immediately to emails, text messages and calls, irrespective of when they are sent, which to an extent existed before, is even more evident now.
The need to respond immediately may be the case sometimes but never as a matter of course. So, the Charter, amongst other things, encourages respect for colleagues’ rest periods (including, and how strange it is to have to say this, uninterrupted holidays) and their need to switch off. It may suit me to catch up with some work late in an evening or at the weekend, but is it necessary to send emails to colleagues there and then and gatecrash their downtime? Probably not and so best to wait until the next working day.
It is all about openness and respect and building trust by effective communication. We spend a significant part of our lives at work so we owe it to ourselves and our colleagues to make it the best experience it can be, and in that way best serve our clients and customers.
And for employers, quite apart from it being the right thing to do anyway, it cannot be bad for business, or efficiency, to have a workforce which is valued and cared for. I know we do not always achieve that but we will continue to try to be the best we can.
To learn more about recognising and understanding mental health illness and how to build resilience, my colleagues in Navigator Employment Law are holding a webinar later this month.
Have a good weekend and if you must work put those e-mails in the drafts folder for Monday!
Navigator webinar 26 May. Tools for Managers: Mental Health Awareness
A webinar in two sessions across the day.
Places limited to 10 per webinar due to interactive element.
Keith Anderson is chief executive of legal services firm Vialex