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Mental health is becoming increasingly recognized as being vital to workforce performance. In the past year, with unprecedented pressures on workers (in particular, healthcare and key workers), mental health has been at risk. So, as we look towards recovery, ensuring the mental well-being of workers will be paramount.

A mental health crisis. Research has found that healthcare workers are at higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, insomnia, and anxiety due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK’s Chief Medical Officer has stated that the pandemic has pushed staff “to the limits of [their] physical and mental endurance”.

Other workers haven’t been immune either, with 75% of office workers across the UK, USA, Singapore and UAE, stating that their mental health has suffered during the pandemic. 77% of teachers are reporting high stress and anxiety levels as they navigate online learning and a reduced workforce due to self-isolation and staff illness. 28% of teachers say that the pandemic has made them more likely to leave the profession.

How work helps. Providing meaningful work to people can help reduce some of the mental health pressures they’re currently feeling. Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England states, “Having a job is good for our health, but the quality of our jobs makes the difference.” To support mental well-being, fair pay, job security, good working conditions, a good work/life balance, and training and career development opportunities are all recommended by The Health Foundation. This provides a good starting point for HR and talent leaders.

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5 Ways to Support Mental Health with Work

1. Retain workers. Job security plays a huge role in reducing anxiety, especially during economic downturns. Being transparent about job changes can help to alleviate any concerns workers have about their future. Where a role change or redundancy is unpreventable, offering to help workers transition to a new position can help to lessen the blow. Better still, workers could shift to a new internal role or into an organization’s contingent talent pool. This will also retain valuable talent during down periods, ready to upscale in the future.

2. Align work with individual purpose. Knowing what motivates workers can help you provide work opportunities that align with their career goals and personal passions. Having meaningful work is a huge driver of job satisfaction. 90% of workers say that they’d prioritize purpose over their paycheck when choosing an employer. Such opportunities can come through permanent roles, secondments, stretch assignments, projects, volunteering, and more.

3. Offer greater flexibility. For some workers, juggling work and family commitments during the pandemic added another layer of stress, especially with homeschooling and the threat of infection for vulnerable loved ones. Such workers would appreciate the ability to shift working hours when needed – or even the option to switch between permanent and contingent work to better-fit work around other commitments.

4. Strike the right work/life balance. Heavy workloads, unreasonable deadlines, and long working hours can take their toll on mental health. It’s worth encouraging workers to set clear boundaries between their work and social times and to not let work leak into ‘rest’ periods. Likewise, look at how well-resourced a project is and consider if extra people are required to maintain a healthy work/life balance in the team.

5. Plug your staffing gaps. This links closely with the above point on workload and working hours. If there aren’t enough people to complete a project properly, the team will be overworked and likely to burn out. Bringing on extra talent will reduce this load – and contingent talent pools are ideal for plugging short-term skill and staffing gaps. Hiring an extra temporary nurse on a busy ward can give the whole team a more balanced workload, less stress, and improve patient outcomes.

Small Changes, Big Difference

There are many ways to support the workforce’s mental health and this extends beyond traditional well-being efforts. Reducing stress factors such as long working hours and lack of staff can have a huge impact on overall well-being. Providing meaningful work can build a sense of satisfaction that strengthens someone’s mental resilience.

Even the smallest change, like bringing on contingent talent for urgent demands, can make a significant difference to your people’s work lives and, therefore, their mental health.