How to support colleague’s mental health during lockdown

Georgina at Bristol Energy

Looking after our colleagues’ mental health is paramount to us at Bristol Energy. This Mental Health Awareness Week, we explore how businesses can check they're supporting colleagues' wellbeing, particularly amid lockdown.

When our offices closed in March due to Covid-19, we, like many other businesses, had to adapt to a new, entirely virtual way of working.

And with the impact of the pandemic affecting us all in different ways, regularly checking in on staff and offering support became a priority, at a time when our usual capabilities and resources - such as team meetings in the office and chats over lunch – were taken away.

Now, more than ever, companies must support staff’s mental health. A growing number of people are suffering from mental health issues as a result of lockdown. In fact, four in 10 psychiatrists have reported an increase in people needing urgent mental healthcare in the wake of the pandemic.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we had a chat with our People Development Business Partner, Georgina Elliott, about the different ways companies can ensure they’re supporting staff during lockdown. Georgina shares:

No one size fits all

When it comes to remote working, communication really is key to keeping staff informed and offer the opportunity to raise concerns and ask for help. But no one size fits all and it’s really important to be flexible and understand what your colleagues want and would benefit from. Twice-daily team calls may work for some; weekly ‘lunch n learns’ may inspire others. It may be a case of trial and error, but ensuring you’re working with staff and taking into account the business culture can make a huge difference when it comes to supporting staff lockdown.

Virtual water cooler moments

The water cooler moments of being in an office are what keep us enthused and entertained throughout the working day; offering the chance to bond with colleagues and build rapport between meetings.

Fortunately, it’s still possible to socialise with staff in our new virtual way of working. At Bristol Energy, we host daily ‘Coffee Mornings’ over MS Teams, hosted by a different colleague each day. Each week, we host a virtual ‘Friday Game’, kickstarting the weekend with an informal (and competitive!) video call.

These activities are especially beneficial for staff who haven’t got a strong support network at home; people who may live alone, or in a house share where they don’t communicate with roommates frequently.

Hosting regular social activities – that are optional to attend, alleviating pressure - can help combat loneliness and open the door to conversations about mental health.

Fighting the stigma

In some companies, mental health is sadly still very much a taboo subject. In some cases, line managers are unaware of how to handle issues of mental wellbeing. During lockdown in particular, it’s imperative managers reach out to their team members so that struggling colleagues feel they can ask for help.

One way to fight the stigma is to simply talk about mental health, which in turn, can open the door to conversation. At Bristol Energy, we launched a new staff e-newsletter during lockdown to provide a weekly round-up of business news as well as act as a constant reminder of the resources and support networks available.

Mental Health First Aiders

Something we’re really proud of at Bristol Energy is our team of seven Mental Health First Aiders; trained individuals who colleagues can speak to confidentially if they’re feeling anxious or distressed. Struggling members of staff can speak to a Mental Health First Aider virtually during the pandemic. I think if a company is able to offer this support, it could go a long way, especially during this difficult time. It can be reassuring for staff to know that there is someone there for them to speak to, at any time, during working hours.

The link between physical and mental health

People’s mental and physical health are intrinsically linked. In fact, poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problem. Businesses should continue to remind colleagues to take regular breaks, exercise and get the recommended six to nine hours of sleep. Having an efficient work station is vital too – poor lighting, a dodgy desk chair or problematic IT equipment can have a huge impact on employee’s wellbeing.

At Bristol Energy, we’ve conducted several questionnaires to understand what our colleagues’ work stations look like and check in on their emotions as a remote worker. This helps us track changes in mood across the months of lockdown and then target and prioritise our resources, whether it’s the delivery of computer monitors, or arranging calls with our Mental Health First Aiders.

Use free resources

There are plenty of free, helpful resources online that businesses can access for help with supporting colleagues’ mental health. Here are a few I’d recommend:

Find out how Bristol Energy is supporting its customers and staff amid Covid-19.

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