Focusing on Your Mental Health, Whilst Focusing on Your Work

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The various devastating events of the past year have taken a significant toll on the mental health of countless people across the nation. For many, this has been made worse by the necessity to work remotely.

Where some have thrived whilst working from home, many others have found that this isolation has had a detrimental effect on their mental health and, subsequently, their output.

It’s worth noting that a poor level of mental health does not always result in poor quality of work, but regardless, I believe it is the duty of the employer to ensure their team’s mental state is conducive to a healthy and productive work environment.

Whilst my current team consists of 4 full time employees (and several freelancers), I have, in the past, managed teams of 500+. The important thing to note here is that, no matter the size of your team, their mental health should always be equally important.

You can, however, be much more hands-on and personal in the way that you broach this topic with a smaller team. In fact, there is a broad spectrum of ideas, outlooks and practices that can help anyone flourish in a remote working situation.

Reach Out For Help

This subheading applies more to the individual employee, but it’s also important for an employer to make it known that they are available to provide assistance.

There have been points in my life where the home and work challenges just felt too difficult, and it led to me questioning whether this life is something I even want to continue. I didn’t reach out for help at the time because I wrongly perceived that as a sign of weakness.

Do not be stubborn like me – if you need help, please reach out. This can apply to anything from fleeting, albeit often overwhelming, struggles at work, to more permanent struggles that many choose to push deep down and ignore.

Reaching out for help, whether it’s to your employer, family, friends, or some other kind of support agency, is never a bad idea.

As an employer, it’s important to be proactive in the ongoing effort to provide effective support. There are a number of ways I support both my team’s, and my own, mental health whilst at work:

Stay Connected

Things we so frequently take for granted, such as seeing someone’s face, or hearing their tone of voice, can make all the difference on a call. It is also in this sight and sound that we may identify that something is not quite right.

Communicating with your team through video calls is not only advisable for its ease over multiple email threads, but also because it helps us to see, hear and understand how our team is really doing – something that can be easily lost in text-based communication.

We hold short team calls, of up to around 30 minutes, three times a week. This provides a great opportunity for everyone to stay up to date with what’s going on, address certain queries and state how their priorities will develop over the next couple of days. On top of this, it offers ample opportunity for any team member to shout out if they need help or support.

I also hold a team call as each month draws to a close – often with a theme – on a Friday afternoon before finishing work.

The leading rule of these monthly calls is that the team is not allowed to talk about work. This allows everyone to relax and unwind in preparation for the weekend, and really connect to their colleagues in a meaningful way. It’s small things like this that really help to create a positive and hope-instilling work environment.

Switch Off, Take Regular Breaks and Exercise

It’s easy to fall into a habit of constantly working, especially when it feels like you’re taking your work home with you everyday. Whilst this habit may feel productive to a degree; not switching off from your work can be just as bad for your mental health as the stress of lagging behind with your duties.

Further to this, it’s very important to make sure you’re not hunched over your desk, staring at your screen, with minimal movement for hours at a time. Make sure to get up and stretch, walk around for a couple of minutes, and even take a few moments to rest your eyes. Oftentimes, feeling physically achy and strained can gradually put a damper on our mental health without us even realising.

As for exercise, this doesn’t have to be a long, sweaty run every day. A simple walk around the local area, either as a start to the day, during your lunch break, or at the end of the day, can do much to give you a different, brighter, often inspired perspective. I think the fresh air plays a big part in this, but also, just immersing yourself in different surroundings can really help with your mental health whilst confined to a remote working setup.

As an employer, I certainly think it’s important to make it known that you do not expect your team to be rooted to their desk through every minute of the working day. It’s natural to expect your team to care about their job, and to put maximum effort into their duties – but it’s also essential that you set their health and wellbeing as a priority.

Make Lists and Stay Organised

Over the years, I’ve always encouraged my team to keep lists and consider, what is the most critical task to complete today? I always start by numbering these in order of importance, for example:

  • Is it for a current customer/client?
  • Is it for a prospective customer/client?
  • Will it help my team?
  • Will it help my business?

Start on the most important task first (as it’s exceedingly easy to gravitate towards what you like doing, rather than what needs doing), then work your way down the list.

At the end of each day/week, count up how many tasks you have completed and how many are carried forward into the following day/week? It’s often easy to focus on the latter, so don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for what you have achieved.

Recognise Achievements

To build on the previous point, many seem to work under the assumption that if they haven’t gone above and beyond, then they haven’t really achieved anything. I’m sure there are a selection of employers that believe this, not only of themselves, but of their team too.

Whilst no one should expect overwhelming praise for simply doing their job (this would, of course, make the praise meaningless), it is certainly important to recognise achievements.

Just because someone has done their job, as expected, that’s not to say they haven’t done it to an excellent standard. If this is the case, let the employee know. Boost their confidence and morale by telling them you’re pleased with their performance.

Whilst there is a certain balance that must be found here, it can’t be denied that everyone needs to feel a little appreciation during these difficult times.

If an employer chooses to show their appreciation by providing a gift, it’s best to make it something personal. Whilst a generic gift card may be great at first, it will become meaningless over time, and ultimately have the opposite effect of the intended thank you or well done, as employees may think you don’t care as it’s simply easy to just send off another gift card. A personalized, hand-written note goes a long way, too!

There are multiple other things that can be done to ensure you, and your team, are able to focus on maintaining a good level of mental health whilst remaining focused on work duties. Many of these will be personal to the individual.

Some will find music at work distracting, for example, but others may find it incredibly soothing to listen to their favourite songs as they work. Alternatively, there will be those that feel reassured in staying up to date with the latest news, whereas others might feel much less stressed when muting the constant updates for the day.

Ultimately, however, removing negativity and anxiety from your daily life is the clear and optimum solution to staying on top of your mental health and, in turn, maintaining a steady output at work.

An employer can’t take full responsibility for this, of course, but they can extend a helping and reassuring hand; regularly and warmly communicate with their team; and recommend healthy and productive practices whilst at work.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Kevin Ashley, CEO and Founder of the comprehensive Learning Management System, myAko. Kevin is developing a collection of courses that seek to assist all those who are struggling with the multiple difficulties found in working from home.

More help from ByteStart

ByteStart is packed with help on all aspects of employing people, some other popular guides include;

Employee health

Motivating your team

Employing staff

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