October 7, 2022

Mind games

Stress, burnout and widespread angst will hold back business recovery. Sue Waple, of Dualism Training, tells Julie Baxter how our sector can better support its people

The pandemic has put many people in our sector under pressure. How can employers support wellbeing as we build back in the coming year?

Redundancy, furlough, financial pressures and altered contracts. These cause huge stress on employees. The human brain is five times more likely to view change and uncertainty as a threat than as something positive, and under threat we do not give our optimum performance. When our brains are thinking positively we are up to 31% more productive. Employee wellbeing matters. 

What are the challenges?

Today’s Remote working makes checking in with colleagues far harder. We need to make specific time for these conversations and be more aware of subtle signs – colleagues who start turning their cameras off, miss deadlines or become inconsistent in email responses. These can be warning signs. In airlines, new contracts mixing long and short haul flying bring tiredness and lower patience/tolerance and cut opportunities to socialise and de-stress down route. 

What proactive steps can employers take? 

Employers need to ensure time and opportunity for employees to talk. Actively promoting shared time, team days during working hours, shared office days, even diarised online catch ups if necessary. If the budgets allow offer mindfulness, wellness and yoga sessions. Make the workplace a safe place to talk about mental health without fear of judgment or negative repercussions. Allow time for rest and socialisation, hobbies or volunteering. Stigma and discrimination come from a lack of awareness, so employers should set aside a training budget and provide access to Mental Health First Aid Training, similar to physical first aid. This is about preserving life, preventing harm, providing comfort and promoting recovery. If all managers had these skills that would be a huge step forward.

Is our sector prioritising workforce mental health? 

In short, no. I think there is a raised awareness since the pandemic, but mental health is not a priority because many employers do not see the value of a proactive approach. However, overloaded, overworked employees burn out – a real disease-classified syndrome since January 2022 – resulting from unmanaged chronic workplace stress. It has huge physical, mental and financial costs to both employee and employer.

Do we face specific obstacles?

Our sector has a diverse workforce with colleagues around the world and on different shift patterns. This makes training more challenging but by no means impossible. The bigger issue is the lack of investment. A lot is spent on improving the customer experience and customer scores, with less emphasis on employee mental health. The industry needs to buy into this from its core. It cannot work as a ‘tick box’ exercise with no allocated spend.

How do we change things?

Education comes from the top and must be visibly embeded in workplace culture. Commitment from senior leadership is key and investment will pay off. The Deloitte Report of 2020 showed every £1 invested in mental health training, brought a £5 return. The cost of poor employee mental health is estimated at £45bn a year.

What is the risk of inaction?

If we don’t change, we could end up with a burnt-out workforce. We will see a rise in absenteeism, presenteeism and leavism (people working outside their hours). These are worrying signs of an unhealthy workplace and all lead to a loss of productivity and impact the bottom line. The ‘always on’ culture makes employees search for new roles better matching their personal values. If employers do not genuinely care about the mental health of their teams, they will not attract, recruit and retain the best talent. Look after them and they will look after the business and in turn your customers. Human beings are not machines, but even if they were – machines need maintenance!

Ex crew and BA supply chain executive, Sue Waple now works with Dualism Training dualismtraining.com; sue.waple@dualism-training.com

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