This year’s World Mental Health Day, on the 10th October, comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past months have brought diverse challenges for many people. Whilst some have thrived in the new virtual world, others have been navigating through crowded home offices, elderly parents and bored children, creating a blurred line between personal and professional life. These new working arrangements are creating unique challenges and as a result, mental health illnesses are on the rise.
Up until a few years ago, mental health was a subject which was unheard of or never really spoken about at work. I still clearly recall how a few days into my first full time job, the Head of Department, warned the team that our personal problems were to be posted at the entrance of our building. You can never possibly ask that of your employees. How can serious persistent anxieties be temporarily put on pause during working hours?
Have you ever thought of putting yourself in the shoes of someone living with a mental illness? Just imagine receiving bad news about the health of a friend or a parent at 7am. How does that news affect your day? How can you fully focus when there is something at the back of your mind which you’re worried about and which you have little control over? Now imagine having that feeling every day. That is what people with mental health issues feel every day. Some signs of someone living with mental illness are lack of sleep, restlessness, constant worry, lack of focus, alcoholism, use of drugs, etc.. All these effects are all common causes for low performance.
As employers, we have a responsibility to offer our people a safe environment, both physically and mentally. These are some practical initiatives we’ve done at Hero Gaming:
- We have kept our offices open throughout the pandemic, mainly for people whose environment at home is not ideal for working from home. Also, self-isolation can be extremely tough on our mental health, and having the opportunity to work from the office, has given our employees a sense of social belonging again
- We increased the frequency of remote employee check-ins across all our teams
- We have an Employee Assistance Programme in place, in Malta we’ve partnered up with Richmond Foundation, in Sweden with Blu Call. For those who have their own therapists, we reimburse the cost of therapy sessions
- We’ve organized a Hero Talk (in-house Webinar) for all our employees focusing on building mental resiliency
- Our HR team was upskilled in identifying mental health problems by attending a Mental First Aid Course offered by Richmond Foundation. A programme which we plan to extend to a number of other members of our organization. Knowing how to recognize mental health problems and guiding them through, to seek professional help can save someone from spiraling into deeper problems
- We give a yearly Wellness Allowance for self-care. Self-care is so important to one’s own happiness. From gym memberships and sports equipment, to mediation apps and fitness classes, to facials and massages, enabling our employees to take good care of themselves has an overwhelming impact on the energy they bring into work
- We’ve encouraged the attendance to several fitness classes we’ve organized throughout the year remotely and at our offices pre-pandemic
- We’ve surprised our employees with healthy treats (and unhealthy ones at times)
These are just some of the initiatives we’ve worked on, which are aimed at positively impacting our employee’s mental health. Yet, factors which are cultural, such as trust, compassion and empathy, are three important qualities in leaders. Leadership is a role which requires resilience, it is there to set the pace, direction and guidance. Leaders must set their expectations on people they manage and be willing to address underperformance when necessary, but they must also know when someone needs understanding, care and support.
Knowing that you are supported and cared for in the organization you work for, does not eliminate mental illnesses but such an environment supports and enables people to seek help and find solutions, and whilst solving personal issues is not the responsibility of any employer, enabling a space where people feel that they have somebody to encourage them to get better, makes all the difference.
Author – Marie Theobald