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Research shows nearly half the population has reported feeling worried and stressed since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic earlier this year.

With new health and safety measures at work to familiarise yourself with, constantly changing government regulations, and the future of the physical workplace remaining unclear, it’s hardly a surprise the mental health of both employers and their staff has deteriorated.

The effects of seasonal changes can be profound too. the length of daylight, the intensity of the sunlight, and how and where we spend our time can all impact our mental health.

It’s common for people to feel more tired, unmotivated, and depleted in the colder months. Anxiety may also increase as these changes can create an unsettled response in the human body.

I discuss the best employee mental health support businesses can provide to help individuals struggling with uncertainty.

How uncertainty affects mental health

‘Is my job safe?’ ‘Will my pay be reduced?’ ’Will I be back in the office soon?” ‘Will we be in lockdown again?’

The ongoing pandemic has contributed to many questions being raised, which we are yet to still find answers to – especially where the workplace is concerned. Because of this many are finding uncertainty more uncomfortable, especially as some employees now face uncertainty regarding multiple aspects of their lives, which may have previously felt within their control.

Of course, nothing in life is entirely certain but for some, the current situation has triggered uncomfortable emotions and scientific research suggests it’s important businesses have strategies in place to support employees with uncertainty’s psychological and physical impact on the body.

Research suggests there is a link between high intolerance of uncertainty and anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive difficulties. Uncertainty can also have a physical impact on the body due to the ongoing impact of stress hormones.

The physical effect includes impaired memory, diabetes, digestive functioning and impact on our cardiovascular system

How can businesses provide the right emotional support for staff?

Employee benefits propositions should be designed and updated with emotional support in mind, giving staff access to the tools they need to cope during stressful or uncertain periods.

The emotional impact of COVID-19 on each employee will be different and the support on offer from employers should reflect this. However, worryingly, a recent survey revealed that only 15 percent of employers had asked staff to identify their needs during this difficult time.

Understanding the workforce is therefore essential and enables employers to tailor the most useful benefits proposition. This means getting to know employees through surveys, online forums, and one-to-one chats, recognizing their needs and priorities.

Offerings should include a combination of services that give employees access to specialists with whom they can discuss their difficulties and learn positive coping mechanisms.

Highlight existing workplace offerings like employee assistance programs (EAPs) which offer direct, confidential contact with counselors and mental health experts.

You could also consider inviting an expert to give a company talk on general coping mechanisms for anxiety. This may help those who are worried about speaking to managers or employers about their fears.

If face-to-face offerings aren’t currently possible, telephone or online CBT sessions are useful in helping employees tackle unhelpful thinking patterns or in learning practical coping techniques. Consider investing in online workshops or webinars, which can assist everyone in recognizing signs of stress and equip them with the confidence and skills to support others.

For example, emotional literacy training is an effective tool for boosting employee resilience by ensuring staff has a common language to discuss mental health.

At Nuffield Health, over 12,000 employees (of 16,000) have successfully completed emotional literacy training. Following this training, 94 percent said they’d feel confident supporting a colleague showing signs of emotional distress.

In conjunction, we also offer Mental Health Awareness training workshops. This develops Mental Health Champions in the workplace, who, in combination with line managers, are empowered to raise understanding around mental wellbeing and to help others access the right support at the right time.

It’s also important to ensure connectivity for members of staff who are still self-isolating or if businesses remain working from home. Those continuing with prolonged remote working may face psychological hazards linked to increased loneliness and isolation.

Supporting employees with remote therapy of their choosing, either by video, phone, or email, provides an additional expert support network while away from their colleagues.

By Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing, Nuffield Health.

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