Mental well-being in organisations under stress: what can you do?

The continuing corona pandemic is draining everybody’s mental energy. At the same time, the switch to hybrid working has seen working and collaboration being organised differently for many employees. “We are still searching for a new balance at individual, team and organisational level,” says Koen Van Hulst, head of psychosocial aspects.

It appears the pessimistic projections of the heavy toll the pandemic will have on the mental health of employees once the danger of corona passes are overstated. “I’m not going to say that everything is fine, but at least the situation isn’t as dramatic as some people though it would be. But we are not out of the woods yet,” warns Koen Van Hulst. “And this is certainly true for employees who were already vulnerable.”

Search for new balance

Two factors play an essential role. "First of all, it is about change. Many people prefer to stay with what they know because it is familiar, even if there are benefits to the change. Moreover, that change has an impact on the organisational, team and individual level." explains Koen. “Not everybody can easily or swiftly accept this change. Team-out risks, difficulty with disconnection or increased stress are just a few examples of creeping dangers.”

In addition, uncertainty about the duration of the corona crisis continues to hang over many heads like the sword of Damocles. Koen: “We collectively yearn for the end of the ongoing health crisis, but we are constantly being pulled around like rag dolls. Removing or relaxing certain preventive measures, only to have them reintroduced at a later date, requires a great deal of mental adaptability. We must therefore be extra vigilant for signals that things are getting too much for some people. Organisations that are unable to identify the emergency signals risk seeing people drop out.”

Don’t wait for the problems to come to the surface

How can organisations arm themselves and reach out to vulnerable employees? “Engage in dialogue with employees who are having a hard time and discuss what they are struggling with. It sounds easier said than done: not every manager feels comfortable with that. But at the same time, it is dangerous to wait for complaints to start bubbling to the surface. Employees who do not want to appear weak may not come voluntarily to you with a problem. This is why it is also important to recognise when things are about to go wrong.”

“Our First Aid course for Mental Problems is aimed at doing just that: we teach managers to pick up signals of upcoming burnouts, depression, or anxiety disorders. In addition, the training provides an opportunity for students to practice responding in an appropriate way, for example with the private problems of employees and optionally referring people for professional assistance.”

“The good news is that we receive many requests to do psychosocial risk analyses. This shows many organisations want to know what is going on in the workplace and are willing to take appropriate action.”