World Mental Health Day 2021: Cultivating a culture of care

Business Reporter spoke to seven technology industry leaders for World Mental Health Day to understand how businesses can support the mental wellbeing of their employees

It’s no secret that the mental health crisis has worsened over the past 18 months as enforced isolation and lack of social interaction have characterised the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the mental health crisis will not end simply because restrictions have been lifted. In fact, as we adapt to a ‘new normal’, many will experience new battles with their mental health.

Over the past three months, since restrictions have eased, 68% of GPs report a rise in people seeking medical advice regarding mental health issues, with 80% of medical professionals expecting this problem to worsen.

In light of this, Business Reporter has spoken to seven technology industry leaders for World Mental Health Day to understand how businesses can support the mental wellbeing of their employees as they return to the office and adapt to a new world of hybrid work.

Why should businesses care about mental health?

The average person spends a third of their time at work. As it makes up a big proportion of our lives, our workplaces can have a significant impact on our mental health. Therefore, it is so important that businesses prioritise their employees’ mental wellbeing and put the necessary support in place, should it be required.

“As business leaders, we have a responsibility to guard against burnout in our employees. To perform effectively over time, people need to recharge,” explains Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru.  “When I look at our organisation, a fast-growth tech company, this is particularly the case for those in our developer and engineering teams, who work extremely hard under – often – stressful conditions to keep critical national infrastructure moving forward.”

“​​Employees at every level of business experience stress – from entry-level graduates to the CEO. The cause of the stress may be different, but it’s just as important to recognise it regardless of what role you hold in a company,” adds Danny Lopez, CEO at Glasswall Solutions. “Nearly 9 in 10 employees report that their workplace stress affects their mental health. Such a significant statistic warrants immediate and widespread action.”

One of the greatest challenges we face this World Mental Health Day is the stigma that surrounds the discussion of mental wellbeing – something that needs to be quashed for true change to be seen.

“Although mental illness affects an estimated one in four adults, we still have a long way to go in terms of raising awareness and advocating against social stigma,” notes Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer, Totalmobile.

However, we are moving in the right direction as today “we’re more aware of our own mental wellbeing, and of those around us, than ever before. The stigma that often accompanies this topic has significantly reduced and attitudes towards mental ill-health are continuing to change for the better,” furthers Dave Birchall, Chief People Officer at Node4.

Mental health pandemic?

The mental health crisis has reached new peaks over the last 18 months as the pandemic “put a huge strain on many people’s mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, a study conducted this year by St. John’s Ambulance found that one in four people had left a job due to mental health and wellbeing issues, up from one in five in 2018. What’s more, almost half (44%) had considered leaving their job for this reason,” explains Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK.

“Thinking about ways we can support colleague wellbeing has assumed even greater importance this year, when most have ping-ponged between home and office working practices. A survey of all colleagues this summer showed us that whilst people loved working flexibly and this allowed focused work, there is a feeling among a large percentage of our talent that due to a direct lack of delineation of work and non-work, they are working longer hours,” adds Taylor.

Make time and be kind

As our mental health faces new challenges as we return to the workplace and readapt to office working, it is essential that businesses put methods in place to provide the support that employees may need.

“Here at Node4 we’re committed to looking after our employee’s mental wellbeing and destigmatising mental ill health. Among an extensive array of wellbeing-focused initiatives, we provide our employees with a 24/7/365 counselling service as well as access to qualified mental health first aiders,” explains Birchell.

Rob Shaw, Managing Director EMEA at Fluent Commerce adds: “Employers should create a culture where employees are able to openly discuss their feelings without fear of repercussion. Sharing online resources, having dedicated chat platforms where concerns can be shared, or having a qualified Mental Health First Aider, all help to support employees and show you are dedicated to their wellbeing.”

However, mental health support can still be provided without the need for extensive training courses and expensive fees for counsellors. Simple actions, such as encouraging employees to take regular breaks, can reduce stress and prevent mental health conditions from spiralling.

Six Degrees has taken a number of initiatives to support employees who may be suffering increased stress during these unprecedented times,” tells Liz Cook, People Director. “Along with bolstering our team of mental health first aiders and carrying out lunch and learn sessions on mental wellbeing, we have created working guidelines for wellbeing which reiterate that if people continue to need to work flexible hours due to personal reasons or commitments, it is still so important to ensure they take a lunch break for some time away from the screen and to get some fresh air.”

Lopez agrees with the importance of taking breaks, explaining that, at Glasswall, “we actively remind our employees of the importance of pausing throughout their workday and practising mindfulness. Mindfulness encourages us to obtain a balanced emotional and mental state by taking time to pay attention to the present moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the first person to bring meditation to traditional medicine, describes mindfulness as “tuning your instrument before taking it out on the road.” You wouldn’t play an instrument to an audience before tuning it, so why do we insist on forcing our stressed and over-capacitated minds to perform without taking care of them?”

Other simple methods, such as checking-in with your employees and giving them the chance to communicate their worries, can also have a significant impact on mental wellbeing.

“One of the most valuable things we can do is to open up the conversation and improve communication with each other,” explains Mahon. “There can be huge benefits found in utilising new digital communication platforms, such as interactive apps which can accurately track employees’ mental and physical health over time and then offer approved guidance on potential actions to improve wellbeing. Through technology such as this, open communication, understanding, and patience, we can make significant improvements to how we perceive and address mental illness at home and at work.”

“At Leaseweb we are always looking for new methods to improve our employee’s lives and cultivate a positive workplace culture,” agrees Storrar. “Some of the ways that we ensure this is by implementing regular check-ins with our staff, introducing workshops specifically designed to challenge negative behaviours and mindsets, and ensuring regular conversations are taking place with anyone who indicates they are struggling.”

“During challenging times, one of the most important things you can do is simply to let someone know that you are there for them no matter what. Sometimes, this can make all the difference. After all, as Robin Williams once said, “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”


Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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