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As part of Mental Health Awareness Week (10 to 16 May 2021), Natalie Rogers, Chief People Officer at Unum UK has shared five top tips to help employers understand how they might better support their employee’s mental health and stress levels as we all enter this next transitionary phase into hybrid working.

1. Ask and listen
The very first thing any organisation must do is listen to their staff and ensure they feel safe and supported.

The partial return to working collaboratively in face-to-face teams for those wanting to spend part of their week in offices must be handled as sensitively as possible. This next transitionary period may be very stressful and could leave many feeling mentally vulnerable.

Taking the time to listen to individuals' feedback about ways of working day-to-day and how they envisage their future working pattern will not only ensure your team stays productive, but they’re positive too.

2. Be conscious about return to work anxiety
While some of your team may be enthusiastic about returning to pre-pandemic working patterns and will welcome the opportunity to return to offices for a percentage of the week, this won’t be the case for all.

Over the past year we’ve seen reports highlighting the impact of remote working. Indeed, a recent study found 44% of staff are finding working from home much harder – physically, mentally, and emotionally – than being in the office.

Where possible, make the effort to speak one-on-one with individual team members or survey how people are feeling ahead of restrictions easing further to identify the needs of your staff going forward, which could help manage stress, burnout, or sickness absence down the line.

3. Communication is key
Most businesses will find their staff in favour of adopting a 'hybrid' working model this year onwards. This will mean managers may have a reduced team working in the office, while others continue to work some or all of the time from home.

This means that additional attention is needed on the communication of all tasks, projects, company news and incentives and deadlines to ensure no one is excluded from important information, feels ignored or overlooked for remaining at home, which could cause increased online presenteeism.

Having clear communication strategies mapped out ahead of time – with a range of people’s inputs – will help create an inclusive and positive working environment for all.

4. Consider post-pandemic health issues
Whether your employees are dealing with grief over losing a loved one or other stress-related issues caused by the pandemic, it’s important to recognise the need for compassion, understanding and empathy for any employees who have been and continue to be affected. There will be some who still feel overwhelmed by the events of the last year and are not ready mentally or physically to reintegrate with their social and/or professional networks.

Having a process for compassionate leave for those who have experienced a loss this past year as well as bespoke and holistic mental and physical health resources will help ease the concerns of anyone suffering at work.

5. Show them the way
While GPs are generally very supportive of mental health issues, lockdown has proved how valuable having easy access to remote GPs is for remote staff. Employers can also help by pointing staff to professional mental health support when it's needed.

Unum’s Mental Health Pathway offers GIP customers a specialist first line response and covers holistic, preventative, and early indication support. In addition, insured employees have access to up to eight mental health support consultations (including an initial assessment) per year via the Help@hand app.

Contributed by Natalie Rogers
Kate Buckle
Article by Kate Buckle
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