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Mental wellbeing, whose role is it anyway?

Sarwat Tasneem, who combines an architectural background with expertise in behavioural change, explores the growing role FMs must play in safeguarding employee wellbeing

By mid-October 2020, I had facilitated my 8th mental wellbeing coaching session online with a new client in just six weeks. Understandably the pandemic had seen a rise in professionals seeking mental health support, however, the unique factor for me of this call was that six out of the eight had been facilities managers. What was clear is that the steady stream of uncertainty during the pandemic has led to high levels of pressure on FMs to monitor not only the mental wellbeing of employees returning to the office but of those working from home.

When you consider that one in four people in the United Kingdom will experience a mental health problem, this is no mean feat.

FMS AND MENTAL HEALTH

We know the FM plays a critical part in the physical wellbeing and productivity of employees. From a mental health perspective, when this is executed in a measured manner, presenteeism and absenteeism drops.

Traditionally the responsibility of an FM is the management of buildings, for example in optimising the energy performance and efficiency of components and services. The additional knowledge and practice of Health & Safety, where the physical health risks that can affect the wellbeing of employees lie in factors such as fire precautions, air quality, lighting, cooling systems, lifts, electrical, and dedicated physical wellbeing spaces to name a few. Where it has become conflated is the extension of responsibilities amongst FMs in safeguarding employee’ mental wellbeing and their psychological needs.

It is not only the office that is in a state of transformation. The terminology and newly appointed titles for the individual leading good mental health practice is also in a state of flux – from “Mindfulness Custodian” to “People Pioneer”. Our experience proves the success of good wellbeing in an organisation is not the responsibility of one manager.

Some would argue mental wellbeing resides in the role of HR as it is a people centric initiative but this is no longer the case. We are seeing more companies holistically addressing the dual need of employee’s physical and mental wellbeing. Stakeholders are growing in understanding that musculoskeletal safety and ergonomics as well as mental wellbeing are all best practice initiatives that make business sense.

CULTURE ROLE

Employee wellbeing is a model that should be led by management across a business. FMs are experts in project management, procurement and delivery, the question is how much of their budget is put aside for mental wellbeing measures and efficiency? In my experience budgets for a mental wellbeing strategy are seldom distributed, and too often the provision of a two-day mental health training course is not enough.

Outsourcing your mental health support and resources may come at a cost and can result in a missed opportunity in developing an organisation’s people and culture. Controversial as it may sound, it takes a commitment in time, skill and perception to be able to engage with employees to have productive conversations that help guide them to the right source of help and professional support.

Not being conscious of the level of accountability by employers is another factor. According to the HSE, work-related stress and mental health problems often go together, as work-related stress can aggravate an existing mental health problem, making it more difficult to control. Once work-related stress reaches a point where it has triggered an existing mental health problem, it becomes hard to separate one from the other.

Forming an integrated, measured approach with vested managers from HR and FM functions is one solution – putting people, performance and efficiency at the essence of this partnership.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has raised the profile of the role of FM as a result of changing work patterns in the commercial real estate sector. Through the limitation of the commute into cities, employees are experiencing the benefits of working from home and the flexibility it allows. Factor the rumours of plans for further downsizing offices and the growth of localised offices , and the challenge of providing and monitoring the wellbeing of employees at work has a whole new meaning for FMs.

With such huge changes in the physical and geographical workplace, comes the psychological challenges. The potential of the hub and spoke model will introduce new wellbeing systems that FMs will have to factor in. The hybrid of AI and collaborative working styles may change the way in which wellbeing at work is managed as we adapt to increased levels of autonomy within the remote office model. This means a balance of in-person and digital communications will be a fine one, but we must continue to prioritise human needs.

The impact of COVID has highlighted the pressing need to monitor workers’ mental health. Those within the workplace who are tasked with delivering these initiatives need to do this alongside the support of leadership and the wider organisation. Mental wellbeing support for the facility manager who is in turn monitoring the wellbeing of staff and helping them to prepare for this adaption to their role will be a key requisite within the sector going forward. To meet these new challenges, due diligence, systems and transparency will be imperative.

About Sarah OBeirne

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