Managing staff mental health in a hybrid work environment

By Richard Latham, CEO, Wellmind Health

Lockdown restrictions have been lifted but that does not signal a rush back to the office and the ’old style’ of working for many employees and companies. The new shift to hybrid working models looks to be widespread, as companies reassess workforce distribution and the purpose of the office. New data from LinkedIn found 38% of UK workers would prefer to work remotely full-time in the future, 49% prefer hybrid working, and only 12% want to work full-time in the office.

The toll on our mental health during the pandemic has been immense. ONS data revealed that the number of adults saying they experienced some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic was double that of pre-pandemic rates. Public Health England also found significant proportions of adults reporting experiencing anxiety, stress, sleep problems and low mood. With uncertainties remaining, the cumulative nature of stress, and yet more adjustments needing to be made in this next transition period, supporting staff to maintain and improve their mental health is as critical as ever.

Practical steps to support staff mental health

When companies are fully remote or fully office-based, each employee experiences the company in the same way, so effectively managing engagement, connectivity and inclusion with differences between staff choices and hybrid models will require reconsideration. At the same time, this juncture provides an opportunity to consider and respect employees’ wellbeing and preferences on a more individual basis, and to maintain to positive effect the flexibility that had to be learned and rapidly applied at the start of lockdowns.

Just as tools and practices that had to be adopted to ensure business continuity during enforced remote working can continue to be utilised with hybrid working, so too can many of the steps taken to maintain and support employee mental wellbeing. Whether in the office or not, continue to nurture open lines of communication and foster a safe environment so staff feel free to reach out if they are struggling.

The return of face-to-face contact is valuable. Personal engagement can make it easier for people to connect and open up about any issues they may be experiencing. Letting employees know that your door is open for a chat or inviting them to talk in person if there are signs that they are struggling reinforces an open culture and helps normalise the conversation around mental wellbeing, empowering people to talk freely and get the help they need. Sharing personal stories on internal company networks can also be incredibly powerful in changing cultures and breaking down the stigma that still exists around mental health.

Whether at home or in the office, encouraging staff to engage in physical activity and being amongst nature and green spaces in break times or out of working hours can provide big improvements. Mental alertness, energy and mood can all be boosted by just ten minutes of brisk walking. Meditation can also provide wide ranging benefits, including reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue, better emotional wellbeing, increased attention span and improved sleep. Promoting regular meditation times, either on premises or online, helps permit staff to take time out and reconnect with themselves.

For those not comfortable with group sessions, there are also digital meditation aids that can be of great help, especially to beginners. Under lockdown and social distancing restrictions, the use of mental health apps accelerated rapidly and they can continue to provide valuable support under hybrid working. They are available 24/7 to be completed at your own pace, and discreet, so help to reduce the stigma associated with accessing mental health support.

They can also be highly effective and some are clinically proven and supported by the NHS. For example, a scientific study into the effectiveness of our digital therapeutic Be Mindful mindfulness-based cognitive therapy course showed those who completed the course enjoyed a 63% reduction in depression, a 40% reduction in stress and a 58% anxiety reduction. It’s important to signpost help and tools effectively as they can be underutilised without good communication.

We are all individuals with different levels of need. What works for one person may not be a good fit for another, so it is good to have a variety of resources available. As the sands shift again for workers, there are effective ways in which we can help with his latest adjustment and provide support in the new hybrid-working model.

Richard Latham, CEO, Wellmind Health

About Wellmind Health

Wellmind Health have been pioneers in the space of health apps for over a decade since the launch of their Meditainment library of guided meditations. The company’s Be Mindful and Pathway through Pain flexible online programmes significantly reduce depression, stress and anxiety and dramatically improve the self-management of chronic pain. Clinically proven and NHS-approved, the medication-free digital therapeutics guide participants to improved, long-term outcomes.

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