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Mental health and the next stage of the pandemic

Supporting staff mental health through the next phase, in the office and working remotely is critical, writes Richard Latham, CEO of Wellmind Health.

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Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

Lockdown restrictions are being lifted but uncertainty remains around the future of the workplace. The situation can be particularly acute for those working in the world of fintech start-ups, a sector that is notorious for its long hours and high levels of stress.

Managers have yet more choices to make, particularly about whether teams will be working in the office, remotely, or a mix of both, and how they can continue to support their teams’ mental health through this next period. 

The pandemic and lockdowns have taken a considerable toll on our mental health. Earlier this year, Public Health England reported significant proportions of people experiencing anxiety (46 per cent), stress (44 per cent), sleep problems (34 per cent) and low mood (46) throughout the crisis. And while life might be opening up again, we still need to address the mental health issues triggered during the pandemic and before, plus new concerns such as returning to a different type of office environment, fears of getting back into social settings and the rise of new covid variants.

As we transition to this next phase, many of the practices and tools that companies employed to support staff mental health in lockdowns can continue to be used, whether people work in the office or remotely. Fintech firm Inbotiqa for example, already had staff working remotely but when the pandemic struck, it increased the use of online social interactions and encouraged individual catch ups. Management reinforced that their door was open to discuss anything - professional or personal- and online resources such as mindfulness courses and meditation guides were shared.  

Coding bootcamp Makers, which trains software engineers for employment across the fintech and financial service sector, went fully remote during the lockdown but kept its graduates and employees emotionally connected through daily yoga and meditation sessions as well as one-on-one wellness support coaching.

This type of close contact is important to make sure to keep all lines of communication open with staff and colleagues and foster a safe space where people feel free to reach out if they are struggling.

Meditation has wide-ranging benefits, from reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue to improved sleep, better emotional wellbeing and increased attention span. Organising regular meditation times for staff is a simple way to provide support, and digital meditation aids can help beginners or those working remotely. Be flexible, though. Don’t overload people with group sessions or make them feel like they have to participate if they are not comfortable with those activities. Apps can be particularly useful here, as they allow people the freedom and privacy to manage their own mental wellbeing.

The use of digital therapeutics and apps accelerated dramatically when lockdowns commenced and have been extremely valuable in helping to maintain and improve staff mental wellbeing. Some companies offered digital tools to staff prior to the pandemic, and they can continue to help as restrictions lift. 

Part of the value of digital tools is that they are available 24/7, can be completed at your own pace, and help to remove the stigma still attached to seeking help with mental health in the workplace.

Be aware there are variations in the levels of quality and effectiveness, though. Research by ORCHA Health found there are over 3,850 mental health apps available. Of the 676 that ORCHA have reviewed, only 32 per cent met their quality threshold, so it’s important to find which ones work best for your team’s needs. Some apps are NHS-approved, which can provide a level of reassurance.

Whether in the office or working from home, a simple but effective way of supporting staff wellbeing is to encourage active time outside in green spaces. 

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is nature, for even small contacts with nature can help protect mental health and prevent distress.  A short period of physical activity such as a brisk walk can help boost mood and energy and improve mental alertness.

An important aspect of supporting mental health is for entrepreneurs and managers not to neglect their own mental wellbeing. The departure of Monzo’s CEO Tom Bloomfield is a high-profile case of what can happen if management doesn’t prioritise their own mental health needs, too.

The mass remote-working experiment we have experienced over the past year has been impressively successful in the way that companies and people adopted technological solutions and adapted to new ways of working and kept the wheels turning. However, as with many aspects of the pandemic, there have been winners and losers, with some individuals relishing the lack of a commute and the freedom of working from home, while others found themselves isolated or cramped in unsuitable accommodation. 

Whatever decisions you make regarding working practices moving forwards, there are effective ways to support staff mental health and wellbeing, wherever they may be.

Richard Latham is CEO of Wellmind Health. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of AltFi.

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