With millions of people still working remotely following the pandemic, mental health is at the top of most employer’s priorities. To mark Mental Health Awareness week, we spoke to UK HR Manager, Claire Horton, about support for mental health in the business while many of our employees around the world are still working from home.

What effects on their wellbeing have our people experienced while working from home?

It has affected different people in different ways and at different times during the pandemic.  So whether its having kids at home due to school closures, or perhaps caring for older relatives, this has put a lot of pressure on people when balancing the demands of their job at the same time. So we work with managers to help them support their teams by giving them a bit more flexibility to juggle family and work.

The lack of social contact, both during lockdown and while working remotely, has also been hard for people that live alone, so we’ve supported and encouraged our teams to maintain contact and connections through video and Teams groups.

How well has the business adapted to changing work patterns caused by the pandemic?

Our managers are willing and able to give flexibility or support when they’re made aware of issues within the team. But sometimes we put pressure on ourselves as employees. Even though we know that we could have more flexibility, we still want to meet the demands of the business. So we need to take some of the pressure off ourselves as well.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘connect with nature’; what connection does mental health have to nature?

Studies by the Mental Health Foundation have shown there’s a direct link between being in nature and wellbeing. Just having small interactions with nature can reduce feelings of isolation and be effective in improving our mental health and preventing distress.

During lockdown, the only option most people had for leaving the house was to get out into nature. While countries are slowly starting to relax restrictions, people might still be cautious about entering public spaces and are going outside to exercise and take a break from being at home.  This can have a really positive effect on people’s moods and overall wellbeing.

How does Westcon-Comstor encourage good mental health?

At Westcon-Comstor, we encourage our employees to take regular breaks during the day and get outside, and we’ve run a number of activity challenges on our wellbeing platform.   In the UK we’ve also been running virtual yoga classes and mindfulness webinars. Throughout May, in support of Mental Health Awareness week, we’re encouraging people to get involved in the ‘Take Action, Get Active’ challenge and share their progress on our wellbeing platform and MS Teams community. We’ve made a lot of resources available on a dedicated space on the staff portal with links to official government guidance, working-from-home tips, and health and safety advice. We’re lucky to have support from our healthcare providers, and we refer people towards the Mental Health Foundation. We’ve supported Mental Health Awareness Week for the last couple of years, run by the Foundation.

I have found that often people aren’t aware of how much support is available, so would really encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out to their manager or HR.

What lessons have we learnt about mental health over the last year?

When we talked about mental health a year ago, we were talking about people who were suffering from long-term conditions, and our role was about helping them feel comfortable enough to talk about them.

This year we’ve recognised that mental wellbeing is not necessarily a long-term health condition – events such as COVID-19 can impact anybody, and we must make sure everyone is able to talk about that and seek support.

What advice and support do you give managers around how to support their teams?

Be aware of challenges, have regular check-ins, make sure colleagues take time off. It’s really important to turn video on during calls because you can pick up on things that you wouldn’t just through voice calls. With regular team check-ins you can pick up on if somebody is not quite right or if they’re not speaking up. If so, follow up and check in with any individual that doesn’t seem their normal selves.

How have our teams managed to stay positive in the pandemic and while working remotely?

Many teams hold regular non-work meet-ups and check-ins – virtual lunches, Friday DJ sessions, happy hours and quizzes – which have knitted them together into stronger units. That’s been a real upside. We’ve also seen people really engage in Teams – the Global Employee Network has grown to over 860 members over the past year. Creating that community, making sure there are regular touch points, and that people aren’t feeling isolated is really, really important.

You can find more information on the Mental Health Foundation website. Follow us on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages for more tips on mental health and the benefits of being in nature during Mental Health Awareness week. If you’re experiencing problems or have questions about mental health and work, reach out to your manager or HR representative – they’re here to help.