How to make mental health a priority in 2022

How can HR leaders inspire when they have also been beaten down by the impact of the pandemic?

How to make mental health a priority in 2022

New year, same problems? It might be 2022, but our minds are still consumed by the trials and tribulations of 2021. The pandemic is still with us, with Omicron growing ever more dangerous and prompting HR leaders to reconsider their return-to-work plans. Unsurprisingly, the events of 2021 took their toll on our collective psyches. Mental wellbeing and psychological health are at all-time lows, as employers struggle to motivate and inspire their teams. For HR leaders, the issue becomes how best to lead when you yourself are feeling tired and disillusioned.

“We speak a lot about the power of 'why' but we also need to focus on the power of 'how',” explained Dr Melanie Peacock, associate professor of HR at Mount Royal. “It’s important to pause and ask others how they are doing. Checking in with others and showing a genuine interest in their wellbeing is critical.”

We’re over the ‘hump’ so to speak, in regards to COVID-19, however people are still being infected and remote work remains a necessity. While overnight digitization has allowed teams to thrive in a work-from-home setup, it’s also led to a culture of overwork and isolation. As Dr Peacock told HRD, it’s important to ensure that employees are fully equipped to both do their role from their home and also safeguard their own wellbeing.

“Ask others how their work is going,” she explained. “Do they have the correct resources and supports to do their job? Those that don't face greater stress, and this puts pressure on their mental health. These are not easy conversations and involve courage and vulnerability. This said, when they occur, people understand that others care about them, and this helps to increase motivation and engagement. As well as this, it’s important for organisations to provide assistance to those struggling with mental health issues. The stigma of shame must be removed, and we need to support others at work and those returning to work after dealing with a stress leave.”

As all HR leaders know, mental health should never be considered a taboo topic – not in today’s workplace. In fact, one in seven people experience mental health issues in the workplace, with women almost twice as likely to suffer than men. One in five APAC employees experience a mental health issue at some point in their working lives – meaning that, at any given time, 500,000 people are off work due to psychological illness. Despite this commonality, employees still feel apprehensive about opening up to their managers. So, how can you both inspire your people to speak up and motivate a team when you yourself are feeling low?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” senior leadership coach Emily Bond told HRD. “The reality is most people are feeling exhausted. It’s important to consider how your work impacts those around you. As an HR leader, you need to dig deep to find those extra reserves of energy. When you find yourself trying to balance overloaded work schedules with home-schooling your kids with managing domestic tasks, self-care sort of falls to the wayside.”

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all blueprint for overall wellbeing and mental health – instead it’s a case of trying, adapting, and trying again to find the right support for your organisation. Instead of becoming overloaded with your own self-care and that of your team, ensure you’re taking regular breaks, you’re investing in your physical health, and you remind yourself whenever necessary that it’s okay not to be okay – even in 2022.

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