Be kind: why protecting employee mental health is more important than ever

Written by
Josh Krichefski, CEO, MediaCom EMEA

22 May 2020

22 May 2020 • by Josh Krichefski, CEO, MediaCom EMEA

With self isolation and lack of connection becoming commonplace as we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, it is crucial to safeguard employees' mental health, writes Josh Krichefski, CEO at MediaCom EMEA. 

We’re living through an extremely difficult time. Covid-19 has not only tragically taken lives, it has changed the way everyone lives. In a society where self-isolation and social distancing is the new norm, we would be naïve to think it won’t have an impact on mental health. And what better time is there to discuss wellbeing than Mental Health Week.

I think we can all agree that kindness is something we really need right now. Personally, I believe that one of the biggest challenges we’ve all faced during lockdown is the lack of regular emotional and social connection. However, kindness is a reminder of how a simple act can support someone’s mental health. 

And while a random act of kindness or a nudge in the right direction is welcome, as a society, we must demand more – from government, from ourselves, but especially from the businesses where we spend most of our lives.

While awareness days and weeks can do a lot of good, there’s still more work to be done in destigmatising mental health. A key part of this is breaking the taboo and openly discussing issues – especially if you’re in a position of leadership.  

Role modelling is vital to changing culture: think of how public figures like Prince William continue to push the conversation forward. Now business leaders need to take their turn. It isn’t about preaching or being a victim, it’s about showing people that everyone has mental health and it’s ok to talk about it. 

Take responsibility for safeguarding employee mental health

I’m not suggesting that workplace support programmes should replace professional health services, or that happiness is dictated solely by what happens in the office. But companies do have a major role to play in helping people enjoy balanced, healthy lives. As employers, we have a duty of care that compels us to take a stand – and we can’t wait for change to come from elsewhere.

Most organisations are now entirely working from home, with offices shut down. In that environment, it is more important than ever that business leaders – from CEO to line managers – take responsibility for safeguarding their teams’, and their own, mental health. This means investing time and, when required, money to develop a bespoke mental health strategy that matches your specific organisation and industry. 

Humility and mental health go hand in hand

I myself have been open with my team about my own challenges in the past – suffering from anxiety which sometimes leads to insomnia. It doesn’t make me less able to do my job, or weaker as a person. It makes me human and I want everyone to feel the same. 

When a colleague asks me, “How are you?” I’m going to give them an honest answer, because I want to be helped if I need it – and I want an honest answer from them in return. If I can’t be open about my mental health, how can I expect it from my employees?

I can’t help but think of the phrase, ‘extend an olive branch’. It’s a simple enough concept – make an offering of peace and people will reciprocate. Apply the same principle to kindness and mental health and you see the kind of positive impact it can have in the workplace to speak openly and honestly.

A three-step plan to protecting employee wellbeing

To support people, there are three things that businesses can do. Firstly, leaders must drive genuine cultural change, so that understanding and support of mental health becomes second-nature. This must be done by educating leaders and employees about mental health wellbeing.

Secondly, leaders need to step up as role models; empathy, honesty and sensitivity are three of the most important characteristics for a leader and will be incredibly important in these unprecedented times. 

Lastly, we all need to hold ourselves to account. Some organisations are doing great things for mental wellbeing, while others are lagging behind. The inequality is problematic, and once businesses have come out the other side of this pandemic there must be a pledge to do more; for example, introducing a formalised assessment of each business and its approach to mental health, much like the gender pay gap report. 

Be kind

If I can leave you with one thing, it’s this quote from artist Ai Weiwei – “a small act of kindness is worth a million thoughts”. So, this Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s take the chance to pause, and be kind to each other. You never know how much that moment of kindness might mean to someone. 

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