It goes without saying that our working lives have been turned upside down during 2020. Goodbye the office and face-to-face meetings, hello the spare room and catching up with each other on Microsoft Teams.
The people transformation journey that Companies House has been on since 2017, and the network support groups that have sprung up as a result of it, means we have perhaps weathered the pandemic better than many other organisations. Nevertheless, there’s no escaping the fact that we’ve all been in uncharted waters, professionally as well socially, something that’s taken its toll mentally on just about all of us at some point or another.
Time to Change Wales is a campaign and movement dedicated to inspiring people to work together to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health problems. Not only that, they’ve also been working with Companies House since 2017 when we officially became what’s known as a ‘Pledged Employer’, signalling our commitment to tackling mental health stigma and discrimination.
Here, Lowri Wyn Jones from Time to Change Wales provides an insight into how the pandemic has affected the mental health of the collective workplace, while also offering some tips on how we as individuals – as well as Companies House in general – can survive, learn and build on the events of 2020.
Wash your hands, sanitise, wear a mask, keep your distance. Never have we been surrounded by so many, and such strong, public health messages as we have been since March 2020.
But have we shown the same amount of care and attention to our mental health? I suspect the answer to that would be ‘No’.
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health is still rife across society, despite the gains that campaigns such as Time to Change Wales has made.
We know from our insight work and evaluation that it’s strong in certain settings, or pockets of society, compared to others. The workplace happens to be one of those settings.
If you look at some of the more insecure employment sectors, for instance zero-hour contracts, especially in construction, manual labour and hospitality - stigma is experienced quite heavily within those types of roles.
During the lockdown period, we conducted a survey to try and get a picture of what was going on. We knew that mental health was deteriorating across Wales due to the pandemic and all the factors associated with it.
In particular, we wanted to look at stigma. Was it getting worse, or was it getting better, now that people weren’t going into the workplace?
What came through overwhelmingly was that it’s still there, with 22% of respondents saying they’d experienced stigma in the “workplace” during lockdown. That might be either virtually, digitally, or perhaps not being included in things because of a person’s mental health issues.
You can’t mention stigma without talking about self-stigma and the reticence that still surrounds mental health, something that’s more common among men than women. Some people find it difficult to accept they’ve got an issue and perhaps need to access support. That’s almost harder to tackle.
There needs to be a dual form of messaging – a behavioural and cultural change where we don’t stigmatise people for their mental health issues, but also another type of cultural change where we embrace the idea of being kind to yourself and acknowledge that it’s okay to ask for help.
Usually, the fear of asking for help is much worse than actually asking for it. More often than not, there’s never any harm in disclosing that you’ve got a mental health issue and want to reach out for support.
Employers have a really key role to play in that, especially when you consider people spend on average a third of their lives in the office or working. It’s been great to see Companies House leading the way in this field.
Find out more about Time to Change Wales and its mission to end mental health discrimination.
So, here we are, working away in our homes as opposed to our offices. What kind of advice can I offer that might help you from a mental health perspective?
I think a lot of it is about celebrating those little victories that all of us achieve day-on-day. There’s still that feeling we have of ‘I need to be seen constantly online working 9 to 5’.
However, the pandemic has shown us that there are different ways of working, and that productivity can also manifest itself differently. When you suddenly combine our working lives and home lives, without any warning, then there’s going to be quite an impact on people of all grades because everybody has felt a degree of stress at some point during the pandemic.
For me, from an individual perspective, it’s also about doing the things that keep you well and sticking to that, whatever they may be: taking a break away from your desk and listening to some music, going for a walk around your nearest park, joining a coffee session with colleagues – or even not joining.
Some people might feel pressure to take part in all the social activities offered which can be overwhelming, but if they’re burnt out and also trying to balance work with, for instance, childcare then that might not be what they want to do. If you’re that person, then maybe you might find solace in doing something else.
One thing I can safely say is that all of us as employees have learned a great deal of a lot in terms of skills and how to manage our own stress, the kind of stress we’ve never experienced or planned for before.
Rather than think about what we can’t do, we’ve tended to focus on what we can do. Some of that has involved changes we’ve made to our working lives that have had a positive difference not just on ourselves, but also our colleagues.
Those shouldn’t go unnoticed. In fact, they need to be celebrated and maintained.
Perhaps it’s worth us all thinking ‘When we go back to our offices, what are the things we should continue to do?’ If it means keeping people well, if it means we’ve learned something from this whole process, then why on earth stop doing it?
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