Internal communications professionals can make a positive contribution to employees’ mental health: here’s how

Sunday 10 October was World Mental Health Awareness Day, helping to raise education and awareness of mental health issues, as well as promoting advocacy against the social stigma of mental health. In the UK, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, and one of the largest contributing factors to this is by not talking about it. Here are some ways you, as an internal communications professional, can create a wellbeing plan and culture that can help employees’ mental health, as well as a system where people feel comfortable and even empowered to talk.  

Less than five years ago, a report by the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) showed that 57 percent of communications professional surveyed are not confident making internal comms plans around wellbeing. Since then, more now than ever, wellbeing and mental health have become a critical priority for many businesses, and Covid-19 has exacerbated efforts to make a robust and coherent plan. However, when it comes to matters of wellbeing, creating something that could work and executing it remains difficult.  

Because of Covid-19, lots of people have struggled to adapt to new ways of working while others are still possibly unable to see their families. There is a lot of anxiety about the roadmap for coming out of the other side from Covid-19 and it’s still up in the air for many what their working day will look like in the coming months and years. Covid-19 has played a key part in a twofold increase in depression in the UK, and close to a fourfold increase in the USA. Stress accounts for 55 percent of working days lost and for 51 percent of all work related health issues. What you do at work can have a huge impact. 

By focusing on the following, you can create procedures that will enable employees to speak out, in turn creating a culture positive to the wellbeing and mental health of your employees.  

Revisit (or create) your wellbeing plan and execute it  

Working with HR who are likely to take up the legwork in designing the plan, the next step in the chain of the rollout sits with internal communications. As most of you may already have a plan in place, it’s worth checking it is up-to-date and relevant. Does it meet the expectations of employees as most people begin to shift to a hybrid models of working? Has it addressed the fact Covid-19 has put a strain on everyone? Do you have regular sessions planned in your business where these ever-changing ways of working can be addressed and discussed? You need to earn the trust of employees so that they feel able to speak out and speak up. By regularly updating employees on wellbeing activities and the business’s commitment to it, as well as ensuring its relevance, you are more likely to get better results.  

Regularly talk to your close peers, and others, for wider perspectives  

While working on a robust wellbeing roadmap, it is essential you keep talking to a wide variety of voices about what they would expect from a wellbeing programme. Diverse perspectives will enable you to think more holistically and consider the bigger picture to support as many employees as possible. These voices don’t just have to come from HR or IC – the broader the perspectives and engagement, the better. 

Offer different alternatives for reaching out 

We are in a fully-digitised age. While you may have spent the last couple of years adopting an rolling out a new and fit-for-purpose intranet system and enterprise social network platform, every individual is different, and a clear and simple process for employees to reach out, either to their manager or HR (clearly show both options are available), is imperative. While the main wellbeing hub should be packed with resources and rich communication, there should always be other ways to reach out too. This could be as simple as sending an email, or even a text message service, so people can reach out in different ways. It’s good to make it clear they can engage with external charities and experts too, if they fee more comfortable doing that.  

Mental health never stops, and neither should you  

Keep creating awareness. Is there a Mental Health Awareness activity coming up? If so, include a series of activities and encourage employees to share their experiences. Keep engaging all employees on the topic of wellbeing – encourage talking – break the stigma through discourse. If you have any champions in this area, ask them to run sessions. For instance, it may be that they have suffered in the past and their shared experiences could make a real difference.   

Get a counselling/befriender network set up 

You can encourage a network of employees to work with HR on this, undergoing professional training supplied from outside the organisation. A befriender network can help build trust and a rapport that can help if people are struggling. Help and support from reputable counsellors not associated with your business can also help those that want to disassociate from the business entirely.  

Engage senior stakeholders to champion your operations  

A wellbeing programme will be far more effective if senior leaders are engaged as early as possible in the planning process. Making them a champion of change will create an inclusive environment which increase the chances of all employees talking about mental health. Get these leaders engaged in events, on their channels at work, and in meetings.  

Get the mix right and earn their trust  

While a lot of the finer details might have been designed by HR, with the help of internal comms, it’s important that IC professionals continually place workplace culture and wellbeing near the top of the agenda. With a continued and honest approach to wellbeing, you will earn trust in your organisation, which can go a long way to helping employees.  

Don’t forget about yourselves 

As is commonplace with IC professionals, you consider everyone else in the organisation before yourself. You’ve hopefully put an exceptional wellbeing plan in place for a reason, and use it to help you if you require it.  

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the author

Marc Wright simplycommunicate founder & consultant Marc started his career in television. He wrote and produced the drama 20 Steps to Better Business for the BBC, and his passion for the way organisations work led him to run a series of agencies including Crown and MCA which was sold to WPP in 2001. He is author of the Gower Handbook of Internal Communications and is a former President of IABC EMENA. He founded simplycommunicate in 2005.

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