At this time of year, HR needs to focus more on mental health

Employees are likely to face more worries during January and February, says Lisa Seagroatt, so it’s important that employers do all they can to offer support

With restrictions lifting, life is starting to feel ‘normal’ again. The days are gradually getting longer and although we are all perhaps adjusting to the ‘new normal’ there are many changes ahead which we will all need to adjust to – one of them being a huge hike in the cost of living where many salaries remain static and unlikely to increase anytime soon.

Whether employees are remote working, returning to the workplace or still ‘working as normal’ (let’s remember that not everyone was able to work from home during the pandemic), chances are that as we bid farewell to what has been a rather miserable and challenging January, there’s likely to be a degree of worry and anxiety rearing its head for many of us as the Christmas bills start to roll in.

It’s not unusual to feel like this in January, anyway. During November and December as many look forward to the festive season, life can at times seem a bit surreal as we immerse ourselves in Christmas shopping sprees and celebrations. Once we’ve seen in the New Year and written out our new year’s resolutions, the reality of Christmas and the costs associated with it often challenge us financially and mentally under normal circumstances.

This year will be no exception, and as HR professionals we need to make sure our ‘worry radar’ is well and truly switched on in terms of supporting colleagues at this tricky time of the year. January is often a month of reflection and it’s often a month for revision in terms of looking at the year ahead and the aspirations we may set for ourselves. January is also a month where our mental health can be challenged by too many grey days, the long wait for payday and the worry of whether the year ahead will be better than the previous one.

Many employers offer extra benefits to their employees through the provision of Employee Assistance Programmes. EAPs usually provide a free and confidential helpline offering a wide range of support for everyday challenges, including managing finances. In my experience and having accessed the helpline and telephone counselling when my mental health was challenged, I found this support invaluable during a time of personal difficulties.

If you have an EAP benefit offering within your business, now is the time to ramp up its publicity and tell your colleagues about it. Benefits such as these are often a best-kept secret, which businesses and employees forget they even have as part of their benefits package. HR needs to remind its colleagues about what the EAP offering is and how it might support them in terms of their mental health and wellbeing.

Financial worries are one of the biggest causes of poor mental health and any employee experiencing difficulties financially is likely to struggle because of this. Look out for signs such as lateness, absence, withdrawal and/or a change in their concentration and/or performance: these are often signs of anxiety and depression caused by financial worry, often due to a lack of sleep. Without sleep, we cannot perform properly, and continued stress and anxiety impacts significantly on our ability to manage normal daily tasks. I know – I’ve been there. 

If there is no EAP offering within your business, then HR can encourage employers to consider other ways in which employees can be supported including people managers operating an open-door approach, allowing them a safe space to offload. For me, this should be the case anyway, encouraging open and honest communication between manager and team throughout the whole working year.

There are organisations to signpost employees to if they need help with their finances, and it’s a good idea to have this information to help colleagues seek expert support. Another option is to provide seminars which are finance focused and provided by financial advice professionals. Seminars may not cost the business anything and the benefit they offer to employees by providing professional independent advice is often invaluable and welcomed.

While a pay rise might be out of the question, taking the time to think about how you can support people will show employees how much they are valued. The physical and mental health of employees impacts upon any business. As HR professionals we know there is a direct link between the health of our employees and healthy business performance. 

Failing to recognise the importance of employee mental health and wellbeing is likely to impact negatively upon any business. Remember, people are your most valuable asset so look after them, no matter what.

Lisa Seagroatt is founder and managing director of HR Fit for Purpose