Hmm, roller coasters – they were never that great. Even as a teenager, I was concerned about how tightly bolted the nuts were, the ‘qualifications’ of the indifferent young men (boys) who operated the rides (you wouldn’t trust them with your cardigan, let alone your life!), and the fact that it was only willpower that kept me from tumbling to my death, not centrifugal force. But this coaster – the coronacoaster is different – we didn’t choose to go on it (not even to impress our friends), and the downs are far more frequent and violent than the ups. As the UK enters a third full national lockdown, and restrictions remain in many other parts of the world, we’re strapping ourselves in yet again.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated one in six adults in England experienced a common mental health condition each week. Unsurprisingly, symptoms of common mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, have increased. This plot – the latest from the UK Office of National Statistics survey, in which people rated their anxiety on a 0–10 scale with 0 representing no anxiety and 10 the most – shows how levels of anxiety rocketed since the onset of the pandemic and remain far higher than pre-pandemic levels. Vaccination offers tangible hope but no certainty, and the dark months of winter stretch ahead.
By recognizing the impact of coronavirus on our mental health, employers can help mitigate some of its worst effects. Fishawack Health has taken an enlightened approach and has offered support to its employees in several ways.
The company reacted immediately to news about the national lockdown and is encouraging people who may struggle with home-schooling, for example, to consider ways they might work more flexibly. The possibility of temporarily reducing hours for those for whom this is not possible is also on offer.
Authenticity is important. There is no pretence needed with colleagues and clients to imply that we have been set up for home working all along. Let’s face it, we’re far more interested in other people’s lives than we would care to admit. I love to see a ‘bold interior’, a cute pet, or the very youngest members of staff ‘helping’ their parents work. But we also recognize that being ‘camera-ready’ isn’t always helpful – although we encourage employees to turn on their video during meetings to maximize engagement, we also recognize that for some it is additional pressure and there may be times when keeping the camera off is preferable.
Alongside these measures, around 100 employees participated in mental health awareness training, and a further 25 undertook a formal qualification to become Mental Health First Aiders. These individuals can now recognize the signs of potential issues and have received practical advice on how to approach colleagues sensitively if they suspect an underlying mental health problem, as well as how to signpost them to relevant support.
First Aiders are also rolling out a diverse suite of wellbeing initiatives across the group. These initiatives provide the perfect complement to an ongoing series of webinars run by the Hobbs Consultancy. The webinars are scheduled every other week but are also available to access online after the event for employees unable to make the live sessions. One-to-one and group coaching sessions are also available. Topics have been broad, ranging from Conspiracies and confabulations to Moving past perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome and Managing trust in remote teams. Last year attendance varied from 90 to 350 per webinar, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive – 98% of respondents who attended found the webinars helpful. One medical writer commented, “I found the imposter syndrome webinar incredibly helpful. We all put such pressure on ourselves and want to do the best we can, but it was great to realize I wasn’t the only one striving for this version of perfection I could never achieve – especially now!”.
There’s clearly no single easy fix to the multitude of lockdown challenges experienced by employees – one person’s coloring-in mindfulness success is another’s explosively frustrating tedium. But lockdown clichés aside, it’s great to know that employers can successfully tackle the challenges we all face with a wide range of supportive solutions – a real shot in the arm…
First Aiders is just one way we support our employees’ mental health at Fishawack Health. Learn more about life at Fishawack Health, along with our latest job opportunities here. Are you ready to join the pack?