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The urgent need to guide employees in the field of mental well-being

In my article you can read about; how to help yourself and your employees with the prevention of chronic stress and burn-outs. The mental wellbeing requests attention! A new type of 'on boarding'​ needs to be created. Preventing is beter than to solve afterwards and it does not resolve itself. In my article you find a background story; tips and tricks and two best practice cases.





This week I participated in a webinar of Voka HC; “What about our mental wellbeing in times of Corona?” During this Webinar clinical psychologist Elke van Hoof, professor at the VU of Brussel and stress expert, presented some important information, insights and tip and tricks about this topic. Besides the presentation of Elke van Hoof, two companies presented their strategy around maintaining the wellbeing of employers. I would like to share with you what I believe are the key points.


First of all, Corona creates a very strange dynamic within society. There is a lot of uncertainty among the people and we don't know how long this will last and where we are heading towards. We can deal with a lot of stress but when the start and the end of that proces is unclear this causes stress and even chronicle stress. 

"Our cognitive functioning gets overloaded. We have to work, take care of our children, everybody is at home.. it is multitasking to the max."

During Corona everybody was asked, if possible, to work from home. Before Corona there was already a high level of stress among a great part of the workers. Now, when shifting to working from home our cognitive functioning gets overloaded. We have to work, take care of our children, everybody is at home.. it is multitasking to the max. Of course not everybody is suffering, there are people who function well or maybe even better. However, this is the smaller group.


On the other hand, people have lost loved ones and the process of sickness and farewell went differently than usual. This has it’s effect. The experience of being ill, being hospitalized and maybe even having the experience of the IC ensures anxiety. This needs to be taken in account for the health demand around mental care.


At the moment research shows that people start to suffer from the quarantaine. At the beginning there is excitement, the honeymoon phase, but we past that phase. Things are starting to get harder. And when returning to the work-floor it is very important to understand that the levels of stress, the tolerance level, is already higher. 

"The numbers of people with a high resilience level dropped from 32% to 23% and that the group on the other end of the spectrum, high risk on high toxic stress increased from 14% to 25%."

Elke van Hoof showed that the numbers of people with a high resilience level dropped from 32% to 23% and that the group on the other end of the spectrum, high risk on high toxic stress increased from 14% to 25%. A high risk on high toxic stress implies a high risk of long term illness and burn-out. For the employees who stay at work it implies a loss of productivity. Elke van Hoof also showed the research that states that in 2016, Eurofound already reported a loss of productivity of 35% within Belgium. This only increases due to the Corona-crisis. Also economically this has it’s impact as one day of sickness is associated with a cost of €1000,- a day. 


There are groups who are more affected by the crisis, e.g.; single people, women under 60, people with loss, people with health issues/ IC experience. People can carry these problems with them for months. News about reorganizations and the fear for a financial crisis will only excel the stress levels. When this is happening it harder to see the problems as people will put on their masks and trie to hold on for as long as possible, show no weakness. 

Very important is, what can we do? 


Tips from Elke van Hoof:

  • Be prepared

  • Have a close connection with your employees

  • Create new forms of rewarding

  • Create new routines 

  • Ensure enough recovery time

  • Be aware that when planning; working hard to catch up might not be the best strategy 

  • Have 30 minutes per day, me time, even when it’s in parts

  • Create a roadmap with small step for improving the resilience, make it specific

  • Create future perspective

  • Have a plan B ready for when people fall out

  • Make the change attractive and sexy

  • Use the right language 

  • Don’t minimize but also don’t dramatize 

  • Take in account that we not all have the same tempo 

  • Offer a toolbox with several tools for your employees for example: 

  • Create a worry dairy

  • Offer role model stories/ scenario’s which helps people to visualize and empathize 





Source: Elke van Hoof; https://www.huisvoorveerkracht.be/nl

Then some examples of the best practices. 


David Muylaert, senior manager of HR of Volvo Cars Gent, presented their approach in times of Corona. The managers from Volvo Cars call their team members every week with the first two questions, how are you and how is your family doing, before going in to work related topics. This ensures them the good connection with their team members and on the other hand it gives them an overview of optional extra needs. 

"They focus on the mindset of on-boarding. The fact that you are welcome to go back to work doesn’t say that you are instant ready."

They worked hard on having good and positive communication and for all the managers to have the same communication. To ensure this they created scripts that everybody received the same information. The focus is to build up trust. They focus on result not on time and find it important to create autonomy. The offered an online learning platform where people could find al sorts of learnings, e.g. how to telework at home in combination with your family life. There is no one size fits all there needs to be an awareness of customization.


At Volvo Cars not everybody is capable to work at home as there are also a lot of factory workers. They focus on the mindset of on-boarding. How can you create enough trust and support from your workers during the relaunch? The fact that you are welcome to go back to work doesn’t say that you are instant ready. They created a roadmap in how to startup their process again. First they have set up a test with a few volunteers, the next step was a test week on larger scale, all with volunteers, they shared their stories to create trust (the role model) and then they opened up fully. Also the created extra time for hygiene breaks, to clean the workspace and tools.

"There is no one size fits all there needs to be an awareness of customization."

Elke van Aelbrecht, Chief of happiness at Axa was already working on building up resilience among the employees before the Corona-crisis. This ensured that for example, working at home was very easy to achieve as all the tools and ‘way of working’ was already there. They also had already a learning platform that they could use to address new topics. 


Important pillars for them are, connectedness and to provide the right tools for the wellbeing of the employees. They stimulated their employees to have coffee breaks with each other and when posted on linked-in they would donate money to the cancer foundation. They also created video’s where employees where asked to show a day out of the life of… which they shared with colleagues.




"Important pillars for them are, connectedness and to provide the right tools for the wellbeing of the employees."

They have a toolkit for the employees where they can find for example a video about how positive stress can grow in toxic stress, a keep it cool handbook with tips and tricks, exercises and video’s of how to prevent stress. There are yoga, body balance and massage video’s and online ergonomist that can give them support when having back and neck issues. During every team meeting the topic well being is touchup on, this to normalize the topic and to lower the threshold. 


The conclusion is, It is important to be aware of the fact that the mental health of the employees request care and attention, especially personal attention is important. Companies that have a more social connection to their employees probably find it easier to deal with tackling this topic. It is not always visible whether people experience problems, especially not in time of fear where the mask of ‘I fight through it’ can be put on. Going from quarantine back to the workfloor request attention, think of a form of ‘on boarding’ your employees, this start as soon as possible and does not ends when they are back. How can you build in the topic of mental health within your routine of meetings? Provide the rights tools that empower your employees.


I wish you all lots of resilience, keep up the good work!

Sources:

“Webinar Voka HC – "Wat met ons mentaal welzijn in coronatijden?"

https://werk.belgie.be/nl/nieuws/resultaten-van-de-belgische-nationale-enquete-over-de-evolutie-van-de-arbeidsomstandigheden

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