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04 Mar 2024
by Laura Moran

How to support the mental health of employees hit by life events 

Events such as divorce and bereavement can be overwhelming and affect an employee’s ability to focus on work. There’s a lot employers can do to ease the pressure

How to support the mental health of employees going through life events .jpg 1


Navigating a life event such as divorce, bereavement, caring responsibilities or parenthood, inevitably affects every corner of a person’s normality.

Life events can be tumultuous and overwhelming and people can feel as though their home lives are spiralling out of their control.

As much as somebody may try to keep their work life separate, it’s understandable that major life events can affect an employee’s productivity, decision-making abilities, attendance and morale.

In recent years, employers have been investing significantly in mental health policies and benefits but, there is another side of the coin to consider.

Often, these life events require a significant investment of time, emotion and resources, leaving already time-stretched individuals struggling to juggle everything.

Therefore, while it is imperative that an employer offers mental health support, it is equally as important to provide practical support.

Traditional mental health support

People are becoming more comfortable sharing our thoughts and feelings (though perhaps more so when it comes to others than to ourselves, as recent research shows), but there can still feel as though there is a stigma around mental health.

This is especially true in the workplace. Therefore, it is important that workplace mental health support is inclusive, and easily accessible, with policies such as:

  • Free, confidential counselling or therapy sessions through an employee assistance programme or private medical insurance. Counsellors may also specialise in providing support around specific life events.
  • Regular check-ins between employees and line managers. Communication is key for employers to grasp where an employee is mentally and emotionally as they navigate a life event. Even if an employee isn’t initially forthcoming, it is reassuring for them to know they have their line manager’s attention should they wish to talk.
  • Wellbeing activities among the wider team. It is easy to feel isolated when going through tough times. By engaging in light-hearted but meaningful group activities, this strengthens bonds in the workplace and provides the time and space to open up to their colleagues.
  • Stress management tools and facilities during work hours. Think about having a designated area for rest or mindfulness where employees can take a moment for themselves. If their home lives are feeling chaotic, their workplace may offer respite.

Holistic mental health support

Life events often create a plethora of additional administrative and time-consuming tasks, and they can spur logistical issues that can encroach upon a person’s working life.

Employees may not be able to work to their usual standard or offer themselves for their usual working hours while they are trying to deal with the practicalities of their ‘new normal’.

Providing pragmatic, holistic solutions often does wonders for a person’s mental wellbeing, such as:

  • Flexible working arrangements to help those who have children or carer responsibilities. Allowing employees to start work later, finish earlier or work from home can ease home-life pressures. Equally, if an employee is taking medication which affects their energy levels during the day, or has ongoing regular medical treatment, letting them take early mornings off but log on in the evening can be helpful. It is useful to think outside the usual 9 to 5.
  • If an employee has been diagnosed with a health condition, they may need adaptations to their work environment. Do they need to access the workplace from an easier entrance? If they are on medication, do they need a private space to administer this? Even some small changes can alleviate stress, make an employee feel valued and improve their wellbeing.
  • If an individual is recently bereaved, they may need to deal with administering the deceased’s estate. If they are going through a divorce, there may be financial documentation to complete. This can be overwhelming and tiring, and often needs to be done in the working day - so providing administrative or concierge support to ease the burden can be invaluable.
  • Employees might need help finding childcare if a grandparent who previously provided care is sick, dog walkers while they are recovering from an operation, a new home to rent while going through a divorce, etc. Providing resources to help employees figure out logistical issues and carry out the time-consuming work for them can reduce their stress levels and increase their ability to focus at work.
  • Helping employees with research, or signposting reputable sources, can be beneficial also. For example, if an employee has carer responsibilities, researching what benefits or support their loved one is eligible for can ease financial pressures. It can also be a relief to have guidance in filtering information that is most useful.

Mental wellbeing can be nurtured in a variety of ways. We are all complex individuals with different experiences, homes lives and backgrounds and life events affect us all differently.

It is imperative that we don’t just pay lip service to caring for employees’ wellbeing but take action to provide solutions to their problems should accept help and support.

Taking a holistic approach to promoting mental wellbeing is vital for a workforce to thrive.

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