How we are supporting staff's mental health

Paul Carhart, 18 May 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has completely changed the way we work, and it’s never been more important to look after our staff’s mental health and wellbeing.

When I joined Wirral Methodist Housing Association we were not really focused on health or wellbeing.  Over the last year we have implemented more health and wellbeing practices and processes, such as meditation sessions in the office,  and encouraging people to talk more about health and mental health issues. We have also run various events such as an office cycle ride alongside the Tour of Britain. 

Even though we had built this focus on mental health and wellbeing, the coronavirus outbreak has presented us with multiple new challenges. At first, we had to take stock, and recognise what an incredibly difficult period it was for our staff. During Mental Health Awareness Week I want to reflect on this, and share some of the biggest challenges we have seen so far – and how we are facing them at Wirral Methodist.

Working from home

We are quite an old fashioned organisation and we have some staff who have never worked from home before, which we appreciate has added to the stress of an already stressful situation. This not only presents challenges with technology, but for some people the office environment is a really important part of day-to-life.

It has been important to check regularly on their welfare and recognise that we need to be as flexible as possible. We are finding that communication is key, so we make sure to keep emphasising the message that there can be flexibility in when and how people work at the moment.

Keeping in touch

We have been issuing regular weekly staff newsletters or updates, because  we recognise that without these, there can be a feeling of isolation and not knowing what is going on. We have backed these up with weekly team catch ups via Microsoft Teams. These haven’t really had any formal agenda but have focused on welfare and seeing how people are getting on.

For such a small organisation – 20 staff – we are used to physically seeing each other every day so being able to replicate that has been a really useful way for us to feel connected.

Professional mental health services

We have had counselling services available for staff for some time. However, we wanted to provide a more proactive employee assistance service during this challenging time. We chose ‘Life and Progress’, which provides telephone based support on a wide range of issues and in particular helps with anxiety and personal worry. This was made available to all staff at the end of March.

Looking to the future

We have now planned our next stage response plan and our future ways of working. It is clear that we won’t be going back to the old ways and going forward there will be an enhanced recognition that staff wellbeing. In particular, mental wellbeing will be a key factor in our decision making more than it has in the past, which can only be a good thing.