The coronavirus has affected the lives of millions of people across the world, including their mental health. To mark World Mental Health Day, we talked to UK HR Manager, Claire Horton, about support for mental health in the business – and how community and connection are helping our teams stay positive through the pandemic.

What effects on their wellbeing have our people experienced during the lockdown?

It has affected different people in different ways, but one common issue and one that I can relate to, is working parents who had kids at home when schools were closed. That put a lot of pressure on parents who were trying to home school and carry out their jobs at the same time. So we work with managers to help them support their teams by giving them a bit more flexibility to juggle family and work.

On the flip side of this, the lack of social contact in the lockdown has been hard for people that live alone, so we’ve supported and encouraged our teams to maintain contact and connections through video and Teams groups.

How well has the business adapted to changing work patterns caused by the pandemic?

Our managers are willing and able to give flexibility or support when they’re made aware of issues within the team. But sometimes we put pressure on ourselves as employees. Even though we know that we could have more flexibility, we still want to meet the demands of the business. So we need to take some of the pressure off ourselves as well.

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘mental health for all’; what support is there for our people?

There’s a dedicated space on the staff portal with links to official government guidance, working-from-home tips, and health and safety advice. We’re lucky to have resources from our healthcare providers, and we refer people towards the Mental Health Foundation. We’ve supported Mental Health Awareness Week for the last couple of years, run by the Foundation.

I have found that often people aren’t aware of how much support is available, so would really encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out to their manager or HR.

What lessons have we learnt about mental health over the last six months?

When we talked about mental health a year ago, we were talking about people who were suffering from long-term conditions, and our role was about helping them feel comfortable enough to talk about them.

This year we’ve recognised that mental wellbeing is not necessarily a long-term health condition – events such as COVID-19 can impact anybody, and we have to make sure everyone is able to talk about that and seek support.

What advice and support do you give managers around how to support their teams?

Be aware of challenges, have regular check-ins, make sure colleagues take time off. It’s really important to turn video on during calls because you can pick up on things that you wouldn’t just through voice calls. With regular team check-ins you can pick up on if somebody is not quite right or if they’re not speaking up. If so, follow up and check in with any individual that doesn’t seem their normal selves.

How have our teams managed to stay positive in the pandemic?

Many teams hold regular non-work meet-ups and check-ins – virtual lunches, Friday DJ sessions, happy hours and quizzes – which have knitted them together into stronger units. That’s been a real upside. We’ve also seen people really engage in Teams – the Global Employee Network grew to over 700 members over the summer. Creating that community, making sure there are regular touch points, and that people aren’t feeling isolated is really, really important.

World Mental Health Day 2020

You can find more information on World Mental Health Day here or on the Mental Health Foundation website. If you’re experiencing problems or have questions about mental health and work, reach out to your manager or HR representative – they’re here to help.