Ama Afrifa-Tchie is Head of People, Wellbeing & Equity at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.

As the nation faces a mental health crisis amidst the pandemic, many employees will be looking to their workplace for support. While some of us may be healthier and happier working from home, for others the experience has been challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic has created social, economic, and health uncertainties and insecurities and exacerbated inequalities for many.

Mental ill health already costs employers £2.4 billion per year, and that’s without taking into account the impact of the pandemic on our mental health and wellbeing. As COVID-19 restrictions ease and organisations consider what their working practices might look like going forward, now is the time to evaluate what is working when it comes to employee wellbeing and how it can be improved.

Employee wellbeing – what works?

New research from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England has revealed what employees are finding most useful in regard to mental health and wellbeing support. A survey of 2,000 employees found that 44% of employees found team building activities – such as groups quizzes and virtual social gatherings – helped to improve their wellbeing. Separate research also found that employees are 13% more productive when they are happy, so boosting team morale benefits businesses too.

MHFA England’s new research found that flexible working also ranked highly, with one in four  employees saying that being able to choose when and where they work helped them to better manage their mental health. Other popular practices included being offered more wellbeing resources and guidance (22%), receiving mental health training (10%), and taking part in virtual yoga or meditation (12%).

How organisations implement wellbeing activities

Although some of us are planning to return to the office in the coming months, others may not wish to do this for some time or at all. Wherever we are working from. It is vital that we establish how to make all employees feel connected, even when they might be physically apart.

Employers should encourage teams to communicate as openly and frequently as possible. Making the time to socialise with people from across the organisation can help people see the bigger picture, stay connected, and boost morale. You could arrange coffee mornings, a Friday ‘happy hour’, or try a new virtual team activity such as a Desert Island Favourites team session.

The importance of regular wellbeing check ins

Regular wellbeing catch-ups with colleagues are key to supporting people’s mental health, especially as some of us continue to work remotely. Just like with physical health, prevention is better than cure. The My Whole Self MOT is a simple, free tool to help employees check in on their own and others’ mental health and wellbeing.

Employers can share the MOT with teams, and line managers can use the questions outlined to help start a conversation about mental health during one-to-one sessions. Creating a safe space for staff to speak openly about wellbeing will help people to ask for support if they are experiencing issues such as poor mental health or struggling to manage their work-life balance. Wherever you are working from, feeling supported to choose to bring your whole self to work is better for wellbeing and better for business.

Flexible and hybrid working

While this will not be possible for everyone, many people will be looking for employers that can offer freedoms and flexibility built on trust, and will be keen to have hybrid working options post-pandemic. This might look like offering flexible working hours and allowing employees to split their time between home and the office to suit their needs.

Flexible working arrangements can help employees to better plan their working weeks and feel confident that they can adjust their working hours if responsibilities change. Employers need to engage, consult and review with staff every step of the way, making the framework for flexible working clear and talking to individual employees about what works best for them.

For more advice on how to create an inclusive workplace culture and support employees with their mental health and wellbeing, visit: https://mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self/resources/

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.