By Tanya White

According to a survey [1], 35.19% of people feel that their mental health has been negatively affected by Covid-19.

For vulnerable people, not knowing where to get help could prolong the stress and anxiety, possibly causing more serious mental health issues in the future. A shocking 11.6% of respondents reported that they have mental health problems now but didn’t have any before Covid-19*. 

With more of us feeling anxious and stressed, the need for wellbeing support from employers is even greater.

Remote working can be difficult without the presence of your teammates. Gone are the days of reaching over to a colleague to ask what they are eating for lunch or deciding which Spotify playlist to put on to suit the office ambience for the day. Having been furloughed for almost 6 months, and then returning to work (from home) I have come to realise just how important team wellbeing support and continuing to build staff morale is when you have a team of 20 scattered across the whole of England. Long days at home in absence of these familiar things and office comforts can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnect.

Supporting your charity’s employees with wellbeing:

  • Offer assurance – One of the many things I can praise Charity People for is their complete transparency on the company forecast (although much of it has been unpredictable) for the year. Having open regular communication and feedback from the Senior Leadership Team is greatly received particularly during a time of uncertainty, and in doing so you are building trust and employees value the honesty.

  • Open communication – It’s easy to feel isolated when working from home so creating a culture of openness with regular two-way communication will encourage employees to open up about any concerns they have. At Charity People, to help people feel more connected to their teammates, we encourage conversation by phone or Zoom rather than email, which can be impersonal. Weekly check-ins with your team and fortnightly senior leadership team meetings with business updates over video calls work well for engaging with team members and motivating them.

  • Access to mental wellbeing support – Offering access to professionals who can help prevent stress and anxiety turning into a long term mental health illness is a good way to support your employees. Here at Charity People, we are consistently reminded that we have access to a confidential telephone counselling service, and we can talk to a trained counsellor about any worries that we may be having about the impact of coronavirus whether work-related or not.

  • Clear signposting – Having a mental wellbeing representative at the forefront of your employees minds so they know who to turn to at work, is essential for all staff. At Charity People, we have devised a new platform called The Support Squad, which is available for all staff to call 24/7 if they are feeling anxious, down, or just need a good old vent about recruitment or life in general. Two of our consultants, Neil Hogan and Tatiana Ambrose, have promised that at the end of the line there will be a friendly, non-judgemental voice simply to listen to or even to offer advice or support.

  • Being mindful – Everyone needs to be considerate of the different circumstances affecting each team member during the pandemic. Employees may be looking after children at home, or have responsibilities caring for elderly relatives, and may need additional flexibility to help them cope with working and home-life at the same time. Flexible working hours may help others too. At Charity People, we encourage staff to be flexible with their time (without it necessarily interrupting business operations). For example, taking a slightly longer lunch break to go for a long walk could do wonders for your wellbeing and massively help productivity levels. This kind of flexibility may help to reduce additional stresses taking hold for the individual and increase loyalty towards the company.

  • Work/life balance – When working from home the lines between work life and home life are easily blurred, with staff members feeling pressured to work harder than before, leading to extra stress and burnout. At Charity People line managers will encourage conversations between line managers and team members around current workloads, encouraging them to “switch off” at the end of the day to look after their physical and mental wellbeing.

Case Study: University of the Arts London (UAL)

We spoke with Vicky Fabbri, the Enterprise & Events Team Manager at UAL, who co-designed a wellbeing plan with her wider team of 20 when she felt that the second lockdown was having more of a negative effect than the first. Vicky felt that it was important to have an open discussion about people’s wellbeing, the support they needed, and how they were personally affected by the lockdown. What also came from that meeting was an impressive list of 12 work and non-work related actions and approaches that they could use during this time. Examples are a team weekly ‘happy hour’ diarised for all, where individuals spend time doing something that makes them happy. Activities so far have included Lino printing, yoga, reading, making clothes and long walks. Vicky who is a run leader herself is also in the process of starting a run challenge with her team. With weekly running sessions planned the team aim to run 5K by Xmas, 10K by February, and will be applying for places in a half marathon taking place in May. What has also been a real success is their team WhatsApp group which has a strict ‘no work talk allowed’ policy. It is a place to share outcomes of the happy hour activities, and to build team morale.

Ideas from Charity People

For Charity People carrying on the tradition of work socials is a must even when working from home. Consultant Stuart Milliner has been kind enough to take the lead in creating regular and creative activities for the whole team to take part in. We’ve had a show and tell video social, played our own version of Room 101, got creative in “Drawasaurus”, and taken part in plenty of general knowledge quizzes (with the latest involving finding the strangest thing in your household and getting team members to guess who it belongs to). Other activities have involved pumpkin carving competitions, film and movie club, book club, yoga hour and wellbeing weeks in which staff members are encouraged to take time out during the workday to do something positive for their wellbeing.

Director Nick Billingham also highlights the importance of wellbeing… “In the future we will all look back on the year of 2020 as the time where everything changed. In my opinion, anyone leading a team or organisation has a duty to recognise just how monumental this year has been in all of our lives. The need to look after your staff has never been more prevalent and whilst we’re all making this up as we go along, it is every leader’s duty to try and keep their staff engaged with their work and the wider organisation, but more importantly their duty to support their team as individuals with their wellbeing. I can’t say we have got all of this right at Charity People but I can promise it has played a big part in a lot of our decision making, during what we all remember as a turbulent year”.

Charities should be doing as much as possible to safeguard the wellbeing of their staff during this period of disruption to normal life, and a collaborative team approach is important when figuring out the optimal arrangements for your team and the individuals within it. Having open conversations asking what can be done to help or assist can reduce employees’ stress levels and also builds trust within the company. With honest communication, practical support measures and enjoyable shared activities, everyone feels like a part of the team – no matter where they are working from.

[1] by Beneden Health on 2,415 UK residents about the Impact of Covid-19 on Mental Wellbeing