Mental wellness, post Covid, is a much-discussed subject right now, and we are all trying to understand what we need to do to help our colleagues and teams. There is a balance to be found now things are heading back to normal. A new equilibrium to be set where the after-effects of lockdown need to be taken into account and everyone in the workplace (or extended workplace) now needs to recognise just how important mental wellbeing is to businesses and their employees.
I suspect for many people the initial disruption surrounding lockdown resulted in a mindset of determined, positivity. It was like a sort of siege mentality where we all battened down the hatches, stiffened our upper lip, kept calm and carried on. At the time, of course, that was what was needed. We were all facing a situation that we had never seen or even considered as being possible in our lives. That determination saw us through the first few days, and it allowed us to face the sudden change head on with a spirit of collaboration.
For many people, though, it was like running on adrenaline, and, just like an adrenaline rush, when the initial response passed, the crash hit.
Returning to work
There is a lot to consider as everyone returns to work. Not least of these considerations is the ‘constant change’ factor. You don’t need to be an expert to know that change can induce feelings of stress in our lives. Every major change in our personal and work lives results in a stress response and that, as we all know, results in health issues. When you consider what happened in all our work and personal lives in the last few months, it is clear that we have been through a period of almost constant change. Firstly, we were isolated, and almost every aspect of our work and personal lives suffered a disruption. We found ourselves working (if indeed we were still working and not on furlough) from kitchen tables, garages, long unused back bedrooms any nook and cranny that would hold a laptop. The boundaries between work and home blurred. Initially, for accountancy professionals and other similar roles where concentration is part of the job, it may have felt good to be undisturbed. There is a big difference though between being able to ‘crack on’ with things for a short time and dealing with working alone for the long term. As the weeks passed, that initial feeling could easily turn to isolation and loneliness. However, we all started to eventually get used to the new situation to some extent.
Now we all need to change things again as we either think about going back to work, operating on new flexible working terms or even permanently working from home. Sadly, many also lost their jobs during lockdown and are now seeking new opportunities. Change, change and more change yet again.
The good news is that according to The Mental Health Foundation, there is plenty that employers and employees can do to help ease the process of returning to whatever version of normal we all end up in.
Here are a few thoughts that may help ease things along:
– Planning is vital. The sudden, jarring shock of lockdown was a very different situation to returning to work. The more planned your return, the less stress will be caused by the unknown. Whether it is a phased return, a new way of working, or a shift back to the old way of doing things, if managers and the teams work together to plan things it will ease the flow to the new situation.
– Routines always help. Whatever the situation you are returning to, try to change the core of your routine as little as possible. Don’t fall into the trap of working extra hours at home, for example. When you are back in the office, take your breaks and your lunch as you used to. Small routines make a big difference.
– Accept that your mental wellness is important. We are not very good at this one. It’s difficult to admit that you are struggling to deal with a situation mentally, but if there is support available, and you think it will help, accept you may need it and take it.
– Look for opportunities for growth. That feeling of job satisfaction that comes with a job well done or learning new skills, and so on is a great way to feel better. Not only that, but it will add a positive element to returning to work.
– Socialise and revitalise your friendships and work relationships. Social distancing may keep you physically apart in your workplace, but you can use technology and planned activities to keep the social interaction going and the team working together.
We’ve come so far already
We have all done so much and come so far through very challenging circumstances in the workplace in recent months that it is vital we accept and support people who are facing a return to work. Mental wellness is going to be a big part of all our success going forward.
One thing is certain in all the uncertainty, though, when we work together and support each other, we become much more than we expected.
There are links below to more information on mental health in the workplace.