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Encouraging self-care is not enough, employers are responsible for managing stress too




Simon Blake

Chief Executive

Mental Health First Aid England








April 2021 is 13 months on since the Covid-19 pandemic really began to impact life in the UK. It is also Stress Awareness Month.


Almost everyone I talk to has found the last year challenging in all sorts of ways - the virus, the impact of lockdown on our home life and on work life, personal circumstances and job security. At work many of us have had to pivot and adapt at pace. As employers we have had to make difficult decisions and we have expected a lot of our teams.


Whilst there is plenty of room for hope and optimism as we roll out the vaccination programme in the UK, it will not be felt or experienced by everyone, and the impacts of the pandemic are going to be felt by businesses for many months and years to come. There is no doubt that the cumulative impact of significant challenge and instability over a sustained period of time is being felt by people at all different levels, roles and sectors.


This week’s CIPD Health and wellbeing at work report found that over half of organisations have increased their support measures and benefits in direct response to the pandemic. Over the last year I have been delighted to see workplaces placing greater emphasis, and taking action, on mental health and wellbeing. There has been so much excellent and innovative work promoting wellbeing that we can, and should, be celebrating.


I was given pause for thought a few weeks ago. I was speaking at an event for young professionals recently and I was struck by their observation that sometimes it can feel like employers are putting the onus on individuals to be resilient, and that as long as they practise self-care that will be enough.


Of course, they recognised their own role in looking after their mental health and wellbeing and they were willing to do that. However, they were very keen to make sure that as employers we acknowledge and take responsibility for workplace stress, taking time to try and understand things from the perspectives of our staff.


The are some important steps that managers and leaders can take to try and mitigate impacts and prevent burnout. Regular, proactive wellbeing check-ins, should be part and parcel of line management, as well as a signposting culture should people require further support. With working from home set to become a more permanent fixture of working life, a culture of boundary setting, and acknowledging the temptation to be ‘always on’, must come from the top. We must also be open and honest in conversations about pressures and influences where stressors cannot be removed, as well as the unknowns.


As I said before, the last year has been a lot. All of us are living and working in a period of time where our everyday lives, with all the joys and challenges, continue alongside major global events and shifting workplace realities in tough economic circumstances. As well as the pandemic, we have seen again and again the impact of systemic racism, misogyny and sexism. Earlier in the month, my colleague Ama Afrifa-Tchie wrote a blog about the impact of external events on workplace stress.


There will be lots of opportunities in the months ahead, a fair smattering of challenges and very few easy answers. As employers, we must keep asking ourselves; are we doing all we can to understand and remove unhelpful stressors? Are we having open conversations about wellbeing with our teams and when we are making decisions? Are we always considering the impact on health and wellbeing and what can we do to minimise any negative effects?


These are clearly questions we need to ask all year round, particularly as our organisations continue to shift and change over the weeks and months ahead.


You can download free resources to help you and your teams support each other’s’ wellbeing, including our My Whole Self MOT by visiting: mhfaengland.org/my-whole-self.

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