‘Be kind’ will be words that you will have come across a lot recently, especially on social media. In these trying times, there can be little doubt that we’re all struggling in one way or another, and the overwhelming message has been to be kind to one another; we’re all in this together.

Everyone will be challenged during lockdown, but taking steps to look after both our own, and each other’s, mental health will be crucial not just now, but when we begin to return to normal life – and normal working practices. Kindness is a concept that is key to this.

It is apt then that kindness is the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, taking place 18th-24th May 2020 and hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. An occasion for reflection and understanding that is close to our hearts, this year’s theme – inextricably linked to mental health and being considered possibly one of the most important ones yet – has the KAT team thinking about the importance of kindness, in the workplace.

Any busy workplace will encounter its challenges and a strong team that works together and endeavours to appreciate and understand one another well can hope to overcome these relatively unscathed.

Kindness, as part of this, you may argue is common sense – we are taught from a young age to treat others how we wish to be treated – but sometimes the stress and pressure of a working environment, or of additional challenges, can mean that this falls down the priority list. We’re all guilty of wavering occasionally, usually unintentionally, when under pressure; maybe a harsh tone, sharp words or cold behaviour. In business, and in hard work, inevitably not everything will be fluffy all the time. This is alright, but it’s always important to consider the effect your actions and words have on other people.

Inclusion

As always, communication is key. Every business will have had to make changes impacting some or all staff members; these decisions won’t have been taken lightly but can leave individuals feeling lost, confused, angry or saddened – to say nothing of the potential effect on their sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Employers have a duty of care to their employees, so likely will already be working on ways to overcome this, but it’s something for every team member to consider; a sense of inclusion can be maintained with even a small amount of effort on everyone’s part.

Taking steps to ensure that employees continue to feel valued and part of the team even if they have been stood down temporarily will be essential at this point… keeping staff in the loop with ongoing projects and work news, ensuring everyone’s contribution and work is equally acknowledged – or something as simple as a quick call or regular team video chats to check in.

Patience

Always an important quality when it comes to the subject of mental health but in the workplace, especially when deadlines are pressing, a sense of patience can be put to the test. This is often linked to a lack of mutual understanding – why is something that is so simple to me, so difficult for you? Why can’t you complete that task as quickly as I would? Why won’t you help me?

In work, as in life, people are not all the same – we approach and experience challenges differently, and this is part of why your team is so successful; everyone has something unique to bring to the table. Remembering this when times get tough can be helpful and is part of successful management technique; communicating with and briefing other staff members in a way that is mutually beneficial – rather than only using techniques that work best for you – can lead to greater productivity overall.

While we’re in lockdown, staff may be finding work (even their usual tasks) more difficult than normal, outside of their normal working environment and whilst trying to manage feelings of isolation or anxiety. Try to be patient with one another; work must still go on, but let’s find new and efficient ways to work together without adding to each other’s stress.

Self-Kindness

Inevitably, external factors will affect our thoughts, emotions and behaviour and building resilience against this in its negative form is something that comes with time, work and experience. Factors outside of our control, such as we’re seeing during lockdown, can test us.

Experiencing issues with anxiety, depression and other problems can push this resilience to and beyond its limit; not only will our circumstances, the media and other people have an impact on how we feel and behave, but all too often, the negative messages will start to come from within. This can become habitual, instinctual – and very damaging.

Self-kindness is a concept that can begin to counter this. You may not be able to prevent negative thoughts, but you can learn to follow them up with positive ones and treat yourself with care. You might not be achieving what you want today – but you are trying your hardest. You might have a particularly low day – but tomorrow, or next week, may well be better. Understand that, while your feelings are valid, your mental health may be negatively contributing to it; accepting and letting yourself feel how you feel – and cutting yourself a break, even just occasionally.

Treating yourself with the love, compassion and understanding that you would show others – in life and in the workplace – can have a powerful effect over time.

About Mental Health Awareness Week

Running since 2001, Mental Health Awareness Week is the UK’s national week which intends to raise awareness of both mental health and mental health problems and inspire people into action, to promote a message of ‘good mental health for all’.

Roughly 1 in 6 adults will experience mental health issues and so the chances are you and/or someone you know will have encountered some form of anxiety, depression or other problem. It can be difficult to truly understand and relate to if it is not something you have experienced for yourself, and even then, everyone is affected differently.

It is truly time for kindness; accepting that while you may not fully understand another person’s struggle, it is real, and your support makes a difference – even if you are just ‘lending an ear’.

Staff, employers: the workforce is the heart of your business – and they are human. Of course, every business should have procedures, guidelines and targets, you should expect professionalism and results and not every day will be perfect; but Mental Health Awareness Week is as good a time as ever for considering the human aspect of business.

How we conduct ourselves, work together and behave towards others has a very real impact – let’s be kind and look after each other; it’s good for business as well as our mental health.

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Information, understanding and support is available for those that need it – please reach out to someone you trust for help if you possibly can. Don’t forget, the KAT team are here to you, too.