This week's guest blog comes from George Bell, Marketing Manager at Sanctus.
Just before COVID-19 really hit the UK, we spoke to George on our podcast where he gave advice on how to tackle the topic of mental health in the workplace. We invited him back to offer some advice to those working in the People function on how to manage stress during this time.
If you work in HR, the People Team or have some kind of role that involves looking after the wellbeing and support of employees, then I know the pressure and weight of responsibility that comes with that.
It’s often a thankless task and you can work in isolation, carrying the burden of heavy initiatives like “fix mental health” - whatever that means.
There’s pressure from the top to get it right, and there’s pressure from the bottom from employees wanting to feel supported.
There’s no overnight fix to this, but there are some steps you can take to ease that burden and get you on your way.
You know that line about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else with theirs? It’s just as true when it comes to supporting employees.
You can’t support the wellbeing and welfare of employees if you aren’t supporting yourself.
It’ll be hard for you to find room to give others the space they need if you haven’t given yourself that same space.
Those in HR/People Team positions often martyr themselves; making sure their employees have support but forgetting that there are not always people watching their own backs in the same way.
So, before you even think about what the company needs, think about what you need.
Plus, in order to encourage others to work on their own mental health or to talk, they need to see that you too are doing the same.
It’s pretty normal in fact.
There’s not really a complete blueprint on best practice for supporting employees yet. Sure, there’s a lot of research and some good advice, but it’s different for every company depending on size, culture, leadership buy-in and a whole range of other factors.
No one has all the answers yet, no matter what they say.
So it’s okay if you make mistakes or get it wrong. Best thing you can do here is to communicate that to someone (more below), learn from what didn’t quite work and try something different next time.
It’s important that you don’t beat yourself up - we’re all learning as we go.
Not sure what your own oxygen mask looks like?
Feel like you’re getting it wrong but don’t know where to turn?
The age-old trick of talking to others can work wonders and can be a great place to start. It doesn’t need to be therapy or coaching; as a first step it can simply be someone that you trust.
Think friends, family members, your manager, a colleague; anyone who you trust to be able to comfortably hold space for you to be honest and to be vulnerable.
“A problem shared is a problem halved” is a cliche for a reason, and letting someone know where you’re at can help with any feelings of isolation that you may have.
Whether it’s that you’re struggling or you’re stressed, or whether it’s that you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing; these things feel less scary once they’re not only confined as thoughts in our heads.
Probably the hardest part of all of this is admitting things aren’t going the way you’d like them to. It can feel exposing being vulnerable and it can feel like what you’re doing isn’t good enough.
But remember, it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers; that’s far too much pressure to be placing on yourself.
Supporting employees shouldn’t be your responsibility alone. Yes, you’ll probably own more pieces of the pie than others, but us looking out for each other is a responsibility that we can all carry.
Look at ways that you can devolve part of the responsibility across the company.
Encourage individuals to organise socials rather than leave it up to the People Team. Set up a rota for team members to check-in on other team members and ask how they’re doing.
Make mental health and wellbeing a shared company goal or OKR for the quarter.
Think about ways you can have the whole company bought into supporting each other. Mental health isn’t your responsibility alone.
There’s a double benefit to this.
Firstly, your managers will be feeling a similar pressure as you when it comes to thinking about the welfare and safety of their teams. It gives you a person or group of people to connect with and share ideas over similar pain points.
But, secondly, speaking with managers is a good way for you to get a feeling for the pulse of the rest of the business.
What are they seeing and hearing from the people they manage? Is their team asking for more support in some areas or struggling with certain aspects?
By staying in contact regularly with managers, you’ll get a good sense for where changes need to be made within the business.
It’s great if you have the time to do this, but I know it’s not always possible.
Two things to leave you with - you’re not alone, and remember to look out for your own needs and priorities before you even think about the needs of anyone else.
A big thank you to George for sharing these insights. If you would like to find out more about the great work Sanctus are doing please do check them out.
We are always looking for new guest contributors, If you would like to write a blog or learn more about the Mo community, do come and say hello!
If you enjoyed this, you may also want to take a look at our guest blogs from Katie on what coronavirus means for the people profession and Claire on lockdown culture, our piece on how we are using ideas at Mo and our podcast with Tom Goodwin on what COVID-19 means for where we are going in terms of work.