Now is the time to prioritise mental health

Organisations should act to look after the mental wellbeing of employees during the coronavirus crisis: that was the message loud and clear from our latest webinar with Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce (TVCC) on the impact of COVID-19 on employee mental health. 

Lead by David Saab, Business Alliance Manager and mental wellbeing champion with the TVCC, and co-chaired between our Stuart Carroll, Head of Market Access, Sanofi Pasteur, and Clare Lyons-Collins, who recently moved from a national role within the NHS to support the Chamber in its mental health strategy, the webinar featured six expert voices and a virtual audience from over hundred companies across the Thames Valley region. 

On the agenda was everything from integrating mental wellbeing into company culture, navigating ‘the new normal’, and learning from each other in these unprecedented times.

New challenges

One thing the webinar made clear was that the extraordinary changes we’re enduring to combat the virus are taking many of us outside our comfort zones. 

That’s no wonder given those experiences include monitoring us or others for symptoms; uncertainty over our future, health, jobs, and finances; loneliness and missing out on seeing loved ones, and frustration because we are unable to work or engage in our regular day-to-day activities. 

The national ‘No health without mental health’ strategy defines wellbeing as ‘a positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope, with a sense of connection with people, communities and the wider environment.’1 

A different approach

Understanding that kind of uncertainty was central to Minding Minds Managing Director Chris Stewart’s talk: “Transparency, clarity and consistency are absolutely vital in this. If we’re struggling with inconsistencies on the outside, what we absolutely need on the inside is consistency. In these times, people are not just dealing with what they’re dealing with at work.”  

For Dr Carole Kaplan, Director at CNTW NHS Foundation Trust, that meant organisations had to be honest in their dealings with people. “The sense that people feel what’s going on is fair – they’re being treated fairly – is very important,” she told the audience. 

“It’s the honesty of the communications that makes a big difference and a feeling that there’ll be no discrimination against you because you’re a vulnerable individual, you’re shielding, or you’re working from home. The organisation’s approach to this is important.”

Wellbeing at work

For Amantha King, a Neuro Linguistic Programming Coach and personal development consultant, businesses need to remember there’s an economic effect when people at work suffer from fear, stress, or burnout. 

She drew attention to the clear relationship between wellbeing and productivity; for every £1 an employer spends on supporting the mental wellbeing of their employees, they get £5 back in reduced staff turnover, sickness absences and employees working while unwell. 

Internal communications around staff wellbeing, normalising conversations about mental health, and role models showcasing healthy coping strategies were also highlighted as particularly meaningful – and the strongest connections are forged by personal, first person stories, something Clare Lyons-Collins agreed with: “there’s something special about people willing to share their stories and being comfortable with an element of vulnerability”

“It’s not the physical or psychological issues somebody may have that prevent them thriving at work. It’s the environment they’re placed in,” argued Karl Simons, Chief Health, Safety & Wellbeing Officer at Thames Water. 

Taking a lead

At Sanofi, we know that there will be times when employee mental health might suffer, or people might feel like they’re only just coping throughout this pandemic. That’s why Stefanie Holman, Head of Corporate Communications and Nick Bellinger, National Strategic Account Manager, are leading an initiative that supports a healthy workplace culture where employee wellbeing is central.

As Stefanie concluded, “We are thrilled that this community of passionate wellbeing professionals has formed and are looking forward to learning more.” 

If you want to find out more about what we’re doing, contact us here on our website or via stefanie.holman@sanofi.com

  1. HM Government. No health without mental health. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/138253/dh_124058.pdf. Accessed September 2020

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