Supporting mental wellbeing as businesses move to hybrid working

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As the end of lockdown comes into view, employers are increasingly moving towards a flexible, hybrid style of working.

This sees employees coming into an office for two or three days a week, while working from home the rest of the time.

The move to hybrid working is largely being driven by employees who have become accustomed to a better work / life balance. It also represents an acceptance by businesses that remote working simply works.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, Dr. Nick Zygouris, consultant clinical psychologist and Director of Mental Health for Maximus UK, shares his top tips on how businesses can support employee mental wellbeing during this transition:

“As businesses are considering a transition back to the office, it is vital to get this right, to protect the mental wellbeing of employees. Especially when we consider that poor mental health costs UK employers over £42bn each year.

At this stage, it is not possible to predict precisely the long-term impact of the pandemic on mental health, but one thing we do know is that while people are extremely adaptable, any period of transition can prove stressful and cause anxiety.

There have been many transitions during the pandemic. Once we all had full, busy lives, and then we were moved to the extreme opposite and spent significant periods stuck indoors and isolated.

This led to a significant reduction in overall mental health and wellbeing among staff, with many employers caught off-guard and needing to adapt quickly to provide the support their employees needed.

Recent research in medical journal The Lancet investigated the impact of lockdown on healthy individuals compared to those who experience mental health symptoms.

Interestingly, the research concluded that overall healthy individuals experienced a decline in mental health, while people who already had mental health symptoms prior to lockdown reported their symptoms either stayed the same or actually improved.

As we’re coming out of lockdown, one-in-five people are estimated to experience COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome, a condition where people find it hard to stop worrying about catching COVID-19 and continue avoiding activities.

So, what does this mean for employers considering a move to hybrid working? The simple answer is there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every employee is different, with different needs.

For example, people with social anxiety may experience extreme apprehension at the idea of returning to an office while other people may need face-to-ace social interaction to remain motivated in their role and engaged with the organisation.

This means different approaches need to be considered, to ensure employees feel supported through the changes. Here are my top tips for businesses to consider:

Keep your people connected – During hybrid working, it is important that employees feel connected to the business and their colleagues. Keep them up to date on the business, organise social gatherings (either face-to-face or remote), plan lunch and learns, or use an employee networking platform. A comprehensive internal communications plan will ensure the success of transitioning to hybrid working.

Provide wellbeing resources – Equip your business with wellbeing tools and resources, and remind employees what is available to them. Choose tools which have been developed by clinical, occupational, psychological and public health experts. At Maximus UK, we offer a range of tools to support workplace wellbeing.

Create wellbeing champions – Create and support a network of wellbeing champions, employees who promote wellbeing activities and initiatives to your workforce. This peer-to-peer approach will ensure wellbeing becomes part of your corporate DNA. The role of a wellbeing champion is to be the ‘eyes, ears and voice’ of your corporate wellbeing strategy.

Set ‘flexible boundaries’ – While some employees thrive from a flexible approach to work, others prefer set work times, locations and rules. Support those employees who opt for a more structured way of working by agreeing set days to come into the office, and regularly check how they are adapting to this new way of working.

Adapt your office space – Increasingly, I am seeing businesses adapt their offices to facilitate meetings and better collaboration — providing a space where employees can meet up and exchange ideas. While this is a great initiative, it is also important to consider that choice is key. Employees will also need quiet places to work in the office to get their work done away from the stresses of home life.

A partial return to the office is a crucial time, requiring clear communication strategies and comprehensive wellbeing support for employees. Ultimately, if handled well, the move to hybrid working could energise your workforce and get them to embrace the new world of work.”

10 May, 2021