WMH Day 2021: better mental wellbeing despite inequality

World Mental Health Day is recognised worldwide on the 10th of October

World Mental Health Day is an important day to mark, as we celebrate how far we have come and consider what more we can be doing to improve mental health around the world.

This year for World Mental Health Day, DiversityQ spoke to seven industry leaders to gain their insights and advice on the challenges we are currently facing to our mental wellbeing both at work and at home.

Fighting burnout

In today’s modern age, one of the greatest challenges facing us all is burnout. “British workers put in some of the longest hours in Europe, and their ‘always-on call’ mentality often means working overtime without pay”, explains Kathryn Barnes, Employment Counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners.

“It is not unusual for employees to sacrifice their wellbeing to succeed at work. The pressure to work extra hours has made workers increasingly vulnerable to burnout and poor mental health. According to the ONS, those working from home during 2020 did on average six hours unpaid overtime per week, with 74% of UK adults feeling so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.”

Hugh Scantlebury, Founder and CEO of Aqilla, furthers this sentiment: “The World Health Organisation officially recognised burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ in 2019. Since then, matters have only worsened as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and lockdowns completely changed our working environments.

“People have been working long hours as the lines between work and home life blurred. And many have struggled to deal with the isolation and limited interaction with friends, family and colleagues. Thankfully, restrictions are easing in the UK, but it’s still important that employers are mindful of their employees’ mental health as we return to the office.

“Small actions, such as ensuring employees take breaks throughout the workday, make a big difference. Similarly, regular and informal check-ins allow employees to address any concerns. All these things can play a part in reducing stress and avoiding burnout.”

Facing bullies in the workplace

October 10th not only marks World Mental Health Day but very fittingly, this month is also dedicated as National Bullying Prevention Month. As much as we would love to live in a world in which bullying didn’t exist, or at the very least end at school, many of us are all too aware that bullying can very well continue into the workplace. And the effect it has on people’s mental health can be detrimental.

Sherry Lowe, CMO at Exabeam, states, “Bullying and cyberbullying have deeply infiltrated our culture. Adults are frequent targets of bullying in various forms – verbal, cyber, physical or passive-aggressive – and can encounter bullies in both personal and professional settings. Almost six in 10 people have witnessed or suffered bullying in the workplace.”

She continues, “if bullying is something you are facing in your workplace, or anywhere, please know you are not alone. Do not be ashamed to tell people what’s going on, whether a trusted colleague, manager or supervisor.

“Going to human resources can also be helpful depending on where you work. Some companies have zero tolerance for bullies, but unfortunately, not all do. And if a bully is higher up in the organisation, they can sometimes be left alone and considered a cost of doing business. Work for companies that have leadership with a zero-tolerance mentality for bullies. Ultimately, you need to do what’s best for your mental health.”

Fighting the stigma

Arguably the greatest barrier to overcome in the fight for mental health is the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds the topic. Laurie Sorensen, Leadership and Talent Development Manager at ConnectWise, explains: “When we see someone coming down the sidewalk wearing a cast on an arm or a leg, we immediately understand that something has happened to their body and that they have a healing journey ahead of them. We might even have a small picture of what their pain has been like. But if someone is struggling with mental health, they don’t wear that on the outside. The people around them may have no idea what’s been going on.

“Whilst mental health issues have been spoken about more widely in recent years, employees may find it daunting to share if they are struggling with their manager”, agrees Rob Shaw, Managing Director EMEA at Fluent Commerce. “Employers should create a culture where employees can 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.

“At Fluent Commerce, open and transparent communication is actively encouraged. We operate weekly Q&A sessions, which enable our team to raise any work-related concerns and provide a free counselling service our employees can access anonymously. Our flexible leave policy also encourages the team to take time out if they need a mental or physical break.

“Cultivating a culture of care requires open discussions with the policies to back this up – it’s imperative we keep the momentum going and make a positive change.”

Small things can make a big difference

It can seem overwhelmingly terrifying when we face the enormity of the challenges ahead in the fight for mental health. Still, it’s important to remember that sometimes the smallest acts of kindness can have a big impact. Dave Birchall, Chief People Officer at Node4, makes the point that “as a society 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 continue to change for the better. While collectively we still have a way to go, there are many things organisations can do to help support their employees. Small acts can make a big difference, whether it is a regular coffee morning for people to connect and catch up, providing tips and techniques to help tackle anxiety and manage stress, or access to professional support services.”

Six Degrees has implemented similar routines and procedures and is seeing a positive impact. Liz Cook, People Director at Six Degrees, explains: “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. These reiterate that if people continue to need to work flexible hours due to personal reasons or commitments, it is still important to ensure they take a lunch break for some time away from the screen and get some fresh air.

“People should also consider the impact of sending emails or Teams messages outside of core hours, as they sometimes won’t appreciate the stress this can cause people receiving them.

“It is so important for us all to be kind to each other. These last few months have not been easy on anyone, but by understanding what is causing us personal stress, we can learn what steps we can take to reduce it for ourselves and those around us.”

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