HPE Blog, UK & Ireland
Matt_Harris

Returning to the workplace: Putting Mental Health at the Heart of it

Mental Health Awareness Week provides a fantastic opportunity to shine a spotlight on how we can increase the conversation around mental health in the workplace. By talking about it, we start to normalise the reality that everyone suffers from dips in their mental health, just like their physical health, and it shouldn’t be something to hide or shy away from discussing.

This past year has taken its toll on the entire global population, and here in the UK, we’re fortunate to now be looking to return to a more normal rhythm of life, which sees us considering getting back to the workplace. This step comes with a huge amount of worry for many. With a large section of society working from home for over a year, the mental strain of returning to the workplace is a very real consideration for organisations. How can we make this transition as stress-free as possible?

Permission to choose

At the heart of HPE is the vision to be a force for good. It’s a way of life here, and filters into everything we do, which is why we have centred our return-to-work plan around it. We have developed an ‘Edge to Office’ strategy which encourages colleagues to work from the place that suits them best. Some team members cannot wait to get back to the office, however some have major concerns, and some are simply happier working at home. Our policy is to offer choice and a phased approach for anyone feeling anxious about returning to the office, whatever the reason. Through the pandemic we have been conditioned to lock down, social-distance, keep apart and stay at home, so a sudden freedom may raise anxiety levels. In addition, if team members choose to return, there will be a significant period of transition – we’ll all have to get used to interacting face to face again, re-learn those social etiquette skills and possibly (like me) re-consider the accepted standards of ‘office attire’!

For large organisations, headline intentions and strategies on wellbeing and return to work are great. But to make it impactful and bring it to life, it has to permeate through the organisation. At HPE we have taken time to support and equip our first line managers as a critical community, giving them the tools to navigate their way and guide their teams to the new normal. For us, the key is to give permission to work from any chosen location, so that no one feels pressured into returning to the office.

How can we help?

Creating an environment of safety is a top priority for me. Feeling safe, happy and secure in the workplace is vital to combat workplace anxiety, and we can all look to identify when this isn’t happening, and help those who silently struggle. In our UK organisation we have 20 mental health first aiders who are trained to notice signs of mental health issues and have contacts and resources to help, however there are steps we can all take in supporting each other’s mental health.

Listen

Being actively aware of those around us is essential. This can be as simple as being in the moment and really listening – when someone says they’re ok, do they mean it? ‘Ok’ is not ‘great’ after all! We are conditioned to respond to certain questions and situations, so finding techniques to open up that conversation and listen to what’s going on make a difference. For example, asking open-ended questions gives an opportunity for a deeper conversation; I try to avoid questions that have yes/no answers. In addition, it’s easy to already be forming the next question in your head instead of really listening to the speaker – slow down and react to what they’re saying. This helps us remember the little, but important, things – the names of children, the birthdays, events and occurrences that matter to our colleagues. Taking a little extra time to really listen is incredibly valuable.

It’s so easy to get distracted. Active listening in one-to-one meetings may require a disciplined approach – leave your phone outside the meeting, leave pen and paper behind or virtually close down your email if you know you’re at risk of distraction! When we’re distracted, we miss the vital cues and subtle requests for help – it may be a slight change in attitude or a lack of purpose or slight insecurity that we miss if we’re preoccupied.

Stay engaged

How many times have you sat in a meeting which has lost relevance or value part of the way through? (This is a big one for me!) Instead of switching off and moving on, can we find the courage to suggest drawing it to a close? If your mind has already left, everyone’s time would be better spent elsewhere. This is especially important in keeping teams energised and motivated, recognising the value gained early on in the meeting and not feeling frustrated from simply sitting for the duration out of British politeness!!

Be honest

I have found that leading by example is an effective way to demonstrate our own humanity. Early in lockdown, I was struggling. The pressure of home-schooling, with my kids at home all the time, the loss of freedom in lockdown and the lack of social contact with friends and family rested heavy on me. It was too much and I just needed a day off; so I took it. I spent the day in bed, allowing myself that time to recuperate before returning to work. Not only did I take that time, I shared the story with my entire organisation on an All-Hands call. I wanted to be honest, to show my colleagues it’s safe to say ‘I’m struggling’ and the importance in taking time out for your mental health and wellbeing.

It’s ok not to be ok. We want our team members to understand that through this new phase we’re embarking on. As a society, we’ve never been through this before, there will still be huge amounts of unknowns, and we may not get it right all the time, but we want our colleagues to feel that work is always a safe and supportive place to be. We’d also love to hear what others are doing around the return to work. If you’ve got a different approach, let me know, I’m always keen to listen and learn to all of your ideas,  if you wish please leave your thoughts in the blog comments.


Matt Harris
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

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About the Author

Matt_Harris

Starting his journey as an intern, Matt Harris joined HPE in 2004 and in his current position he is heading up the UK Sales Organization, which encompasses the Account Management, Inside Sales, Product Specialist, Presales and Channel functions. He believes in business as force for good and the responsibility that tech leaders carry to make the world a better place. Matt is passionate about the people within the business, the culture of our UKI organization and HPE’s core purpose – to advance the way people live and work.

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