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Mental Health Awareness Week: “No Act of Kindness is Ever Wasted”*

It is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the theme is kindness. 

In the midst of a global pandemic which is requiring us all to respond to new and unexpected challenges, showing kindness to both ourselves and others is possibly more important than ever. This extends to the workplace, where staff at every level are likely to be working in new and different ways and may be experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety. 

While kindness may not seem like an obvious business imperative, it is at all times a powerful tool to support the mental health and wellbeing of staff, and can help create an engaged, collaborative, committed and loyal workforce.

If you are interested in this topic, you might also be interested in listening to this podcast:

Mental Health in the Workplace

Also, as a new Friday Feature to help us all appreciate life outside work, we bring you  personal recommendations from members of our team and our friends of what is keeping them happy and distracted during these challenging days.  Read our first recommendation – New Amsterdam on Prime Video – from our colleague Pooja Dasgupta below.

In this article we set out three ways to support the mental health and wellbeing of staff with kindness during this unprecedented and challenging time.

1. Communicate openly, effectively and frequently 

At a time of great uncertainty, clear, transparent and regular communication about what is known (for example, the current state of the business) can alleviate stress, build trust and engage staff. Being frank and upfront with employees at every level and sharing information that is being discussed at board level (in a calm and clear way) is likely to make staff feel more valued and reduce any feelings of negativity or mistrust. This may mean that you are communicating with your staff more often than you would be normally, because being away from the office will likely cause staff to feel more removed from the business than ever before. 

However, it is equally important to ensure that communication with staff at a personal level is maintained – replicating the friendly ‘coffee machine’ chat – as it helps foster and maintain a team bond.

Methods of communication are important too – in general, video-conferencing and/or phone calls are likely to allow for more rapport to be built than email. 

2. Be flexible and understanding

No member of staff will be having an identical lockdown experience, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on an individual’s mental health will vary greatly depending on their specific circumstances. For example, it may depend on where they are living and who with, whether they have childcare (and now home-schooling) responsibilities, whether they have relatives particularly at risk from the virus, and/or whether they were already dealing with mental health issues. It is therefore vital that employers do not adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing their employees’ wellbeing and that the support they offer is tailored to the individual’s specific needs. 

Being understanding is a key message that comes out of the recently published ACAS guidance on ‘Coronavirus and mental health at work’, which states that employers “need to be understanding towards the concerns and needs of [their] staff while they work in new or unexpected ways”.

3. Promote a healthy lifestyle

Our lifestyle is one thing that we can assert some control over when there is so much that is outside of our control. Mental health is inextricably linked to physical health and staff should be encouraged to take regular breaks, finish work at an appropriate time, get fresh air and exercise (within the government’s guidelines on social-distancing) and establish healthy boundaries between work and personal times (which can be much harder to do when you are working from your kitchen, bedroom or living room). We have seen employers coming up with innovative ways of promoting a healthy lifestyle – including setting up exercise and cooking challenges for their staff.

Managers should lead by example and be prepared to be vocal and open about the steps they are taking to look after their own wellbeing so that more junior staff, who may feel under increasing amounts of pressure to show their worth at the moment, feel able to do the same. 

When prioritising kindness, business leaders and managers should also make sure that they do not forget about themselves. Not only will they be dealing with the same fears, uncertainty and challenges as everyone else, they will also have the additional pressure of trying to firefight to get the business through in these incredibly uncertain times. Being open and honest about these challenges to the team you are managing (and showing a degree of vulnerability) is one way to elicit upwards understanding from staff and to ensure that, as a manager, you are in receipt of the same kindness that you are giving. 

If you would like to discuss the matters raised in this alert further, or for guidance on your specific rights, responsibilities and potential liabilities, please contact Managing Partner Clare Murray who specialises in partnership and employment law issues for multi-national employers, senior executives, firms and partners.

*Aesop, Greek fabulist and storyteller  

Finally, Our New Friday Feature:

To help us all appreciate life outside work, we will be bringing you personal recommendations from members of our team and our friends of what is keeping them happy and distracted during these challenging days.  Read our first recommendation – New Amsterdam on Prime Video – from our colleague Pooja Dasgupta below.

My top recommendation at the moment would be New Amsterdam on Amazon Prime Video – it’s about a public hospital in New York (based on the book “Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital” by Dr Eric Manheimer, based on his own life; they call the hospital New Amsterdam in the series, but it’s based on Bellevue) and a medical director they brought in, who essentially completely changed things up for the greater good and did everything he could to truly help people, as opposed to the hospital focusing solely on profit.

For me, especially in the current circumstances, it was an eye-opening reminder of the sacrifices that doctors and nurses make on a daily basis to keep us all healthy and safe, and the kindness and compassion that they show while doing the toughest of jobs. It was surprisingly uplifting, yet on the other hand, had me crying in the first episode – be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions!

We will be sharing more Friday recommendations from our team and friends of the firm in the coming weeks and please do send us any of your own that you would be happy to share with us and our readers. Please send them to Daniella Brann.

Please note that the opinions expressed in our Friday Feature are the personal views of the individual and do not constitute legal advice or a formal recommendation by CM Murray LLP.