More steps can be taken to build on progress made during the pandemic. Greenwood believes employers must focus on normalising the full spectrum of psychological issues. “To push the needle forward, folks with chronic conditions need to feel they’re able to talk without judgement,” says Greenwood. Leaders coming forward with their own struggles can help, she says, showing people who deal with these conditions are still highly functional and successful.
Resources and communication regarding mental health are key, as is flexibility and workplace mental health training. Currently, only 43% of companies (down from 51% last year) specifically train line managers to support staff with mental ill health, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. The same data shows employees realise employers haven’t put adequate support mechanisms in place: although 77% of workers say their organisations actively promote good mental wellbeing, only half say companies effectively identify and manage struggling employees. Managers must be appropriately trained to spot, address and engage with struggling workers, and help them find the help they need within the company-wide provision, which can often be a labyrinth to navigate. In turn, this degree of constructive care and signposting would likely increase the use of EAPs.
All this, however, will take work, since change needs to happen at the top, says Naeema Pasha, EMEA director of behavioural science at the digital coaching platform CoachHub. “All the constituent parts of workplace wellbeing, destigmatisation included, must be integrated at an executive-strategy level, and be a collective priority, not one that sits purely with HR teams,” she says.
Broader social change will likely play a role in bolstering employer engagement and best practices on mental health. Outside the workplace, conversations about mental health have been unlocked in the wake of the pandemic. Plus, as Gen Z enters the workforce, their openness-by-default might have a trickle-up effect. As the group most comfortable with expressing wellness struggles, they can influence what’s normal and appropriate in workplace conversations. “Although every generation has things they can teach other generations, the younger generation has more than a role in changing the dialogue around mental health – they have a responsibility,” says Allen.
For now, though, as stigma is still omnipresent, workers may unfortunately be right to feel nervous about disclosing mental-health issues. “Ironically, we’ve heard from employees that the burden of trying to hide a mental health challenge can be even greater than experiencing the challenge itself,” says Greenwood. “That’s why normalising mental health is so important – even if someone never talks about their experiences at work, they can still feel accepted and not isolated.”
The pandemic continues to evolve, as do its mental health outcomes, but there’s so much more to be done in both the workplace and wider society in the framing, discussing and judgement of all aspects of mental health. With the pandemic demonstrating the sort of change possible within a short timeframe, an even greater positive evolution could gradually increase the number of people willing to speak up and find the support they need.