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In many ways, the coronavirus crisis has been a wake-up call. Before the pandemic, organisations were slowly embracing inclusivity and acknowledging its benefits. Now, it’s clear that inclusivity is critical for workers’ wellbeing. Or risk worsening mental health, with devastating implications for all aspects of their lives.

Of course, there’s not just the human cost to consider. As the economy prepares to reboot, organisations need workers to perform at their best and drive them back into profitable territory. Research shows that those without resources in place to support employees’ mental wellbeing are likely to suffer financially. A recent study found that “poor mental health is costing UK employers £29bn in reduced productivity due to presenteeism every year.”1

With people frightened and struggling with uncertainty, now’s the time to make each other feel safe, respected, and accepted.  There’s no rulebook for dealing with the fall-out from Covid-19. However, there are steps we can take to create a kinder, more inclusive workplace that’s supportive of mental health.

 With a return to the workplace imminent, here are some that employers can take to create greater empathy, inclusion and belonging.

  1. Create a more open culture

Covid-19 has already blurred the boundaries between personal and professional life. With millions of people working from home, we all have a new and more complete picture of the colleagues we work with every day. Video calls reveal not just homes, but often children, partners and pets. And these days, when someone asks how you are, it’s a serious question and not just social etiquette. What if we maintained this more open and caring culture when we returned to work? Not just for the sake of mental health, but to improve inclusion generally: when employees can bring their ‘whole selves’ to work, they feel welcomed, understood and a valued part of the team. And this may be critical, as people grapple with new responsibilities, for example as a parent or carer. It’s important that people feel free to discuss shifting pressures to avoid unnecessary stress and that managers support individuals on a case by case basis.

Your culture will become more open if you are open too. Be honest and transparent. Admit that you are dealing with a situation that’s entirely new to you. Encourage suggestions to help the workforce and listen to ideas. In the new normal, trust will be essential between employers and employees, as workers depend on leaders to keep them safe and well.

  1. Maximise tech

Technology has been a blessing during lockdown, keeping us connected with each other and supporting business continuation. With homeworking likely to become a permanent feature of work life for the foreseeable, it’s important that we keep these interactions going, particularly engaging with our colleagues who may be isolated or vulnerable. Make time for social drop ins via video and provide a virtual space that enables some of the social interaction that would have happened in the office, such as a weekly virtual lunch. Once social distancing restrictions are lifted and businesses slowly move back to an on-site model, lets remember the importance of staying connected and, where appropriate, apply what we have learnt to our management and engagement of employees who are part-time, work from home or on leave.

Technology has also put mental health resources at our fingertips. There’s a range of apps on the market to help employees support their mental health. Without colleagues around to talk to, such tech could be a lifeline, providing tips for mental wellbeing and highlighting potential problems.

At Green Park, we teamed up with mental health experts, Don’t Mind Group, to bring our employees and VIP network Green Park Well-being+, an app for “whole of soul” wellbeing, at a time that many of us need it most. The app helps users calculate and track their current state of wellbeing and features educational well-being articles; mindfulness, meditation and fitness videos, a conversation forum and the ability to book sessions with qualified therapists.

  1. Re-think working hours

While some workers welcome the end of lockdown, others are eyeing it with concern. Many fear that a return to crowded cities and public transport will bring greater exposure to COVID-19. To ease their anxiety, once the Government lifts lockdown measures for your workers, why not change or stagger working hours, allowing employees to start earlier or later than usual, when transport is less busy? You could also continue flexible working policies that may be in use already.

  1. Review support kits and existing health and wellbeing policies

 The COVID19 pandemic has affected us all in different ways, refracting the different facets of our lives to create unique sets of concerns. Money, relationships, grief, bereavement – everyone will need support for their own individual situation. Make sure this wide-ranging support is available to everyone in your organisation. Look at existing support kits, including Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and update them as necessary. Provide information and contact details for all kinds of support, from advice on coping with debt to mental health resources.

 While you’re looking at your support kits, take a look at your wider health and wellbeing policies too. Ensure they’re future-proof if possible and fit for purpose in the era of COVID-19. This extends to flexible working policies. Consider workers’ needs and offer alternatives to the 9 to 5 if possible.

No leader had the training to cope with the impact of coronavirus. But, by taking concrete measures to improve Diversity & Inclusion, you can future-proof your organisation, so the workforce is as resilient as possible.

Raj Tulsiani is leader of Green Park ,a consultancy offering Executive Search, Interim Management, Board Advisory, Diversity & Inclusion and Managed Service People Solutions, and author of Diversity and Inclusion for Leaders: Making a Difference with the Diversity Headhunter

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