Over the past year our mental health and wellbeing have been put under strain.
Whether you were classified as a key worker, transitioned to working remotely or simply struggled to keep up with the changing government restrictions, the past year or so has impacted each and every one of us to varying degrees.
At the end of the first lockdown, a survey by mental health charity Mind found that more than half of UK adults and over two thirds of young people said their mental health had worsened. Mental health conditions such as depression have seen an increase year on year. The Office of National Statistics found that 21% of adults in the UK were said to have suffered from depression by the end of the lockdown in 2021 – up 3% from June 2020.
In my role at FedEx, I have witnessed first-hand how the pandemic has affected wellbeing. As an essential service provider, FedEx team members have worked tirelessly to keep trade flowing while also delivering personal protective equipment and medical supplies. Our team members had to quickly adapt to the changing working environment while continuing to operate as usual to ensure goods continued to flow around the globe. From January 2020 to July 2021, FedEx Express shipped more than 100 kilotons of personal protective equipment, including more than 2.4 billion masks around the world.
Making sure all our team members were safe and felt supported is and always will be our number one priority. We quickly adapted our operations in line with social distancing measures, including taking away the need for customers to physically sign for deliveries to make sure our team members and customers felt safe. There was no hesitation in providing all our team members with masks and PPE from the start, long before the government advised companies to do so. Rapidly enforcing social distancing in our busy operational sites was also key, as we were committed to maintaining the highest standard of safety possible for our essential frontline team members under challenging circumstances.
Flexibility took centre stage as we found new ways to be effective while looking after each other. As an example, we offered support for colleagues with childcare commitments who had to balance a ‘new normal’ where home life, work life, and family considerations often overlapped. Maintaining that sense of community at all our sites was key to facing these challenging times and our internal communications, whether virtual or at a safe distance, played a leading role in fostering team member connections, boosting team morale, and helping ensure that everyone knew what was happening and what actions were taken. We not only supported teams with enhanced IT equipment to work remotely, but also equipped managers with toolkits to support their teams and identify any individual difficulties.
At FedEx, we work hard to support our team members. We enhanced our existing Employee Assistance Programme, enabling people to get the support they needed, and held management training sessions on mental health awareness so they could spot the signs within their teams of people who may be struggling.
We also witnessed the importance of our FedEx Mental Health Champions: team members who take action to raise awareness of mental health problems amongst staff and challenge the stigma surrounding the topic. These individuals volunteer their time and are always on hand to provide confidential support to colleagues across the business, encouraging people to look out for each other and watch out for signs that others may need extra help.
In addition, we launched a number of regional initiatives to help bring this sense of community into the workplace. In May, 53 FedEx team members from our Atherstone hub collectively completed 987 miles in a “Get Active” challenge to raise awareness of the benefits that exercise has on people’s mental health.
Team members at our Harlow and Enfield depots also organised a charity walk to raise money and get their colleagues and communities moving. Spending most of their days on the road or sitting at their desks, team members have welcomed this change to their usual routine and witnessed an improvement in both their physical and mental health as they were training for the charity walk.
While the pandemic has undoubtedly been a hugely challenging time for us all, it has been reassuring and uplifting to see how people have come together during this crisis. We saw a greater focus and emphasis placed on protecting local communities, with individuals taking the initiative and going the extra mile to help neighbours in need.
Prioritising mental health has never been more critical than it is now for companies. Managers have the responsibility to regularly connect with their teams and check on their health and wellbeing, providing the right resources to ensure every employee feels cared for.
However, we must not forget that this has been an incredibly tough year not just for our team members, but our customers too. Customers have experienced unprecedented challenges, with some sadly having to close their businesses, suspend in-person activities, and move to online trading. The restrictions particularly impacted our SME customers.
The need for a network of support is vital during these difficult times. Larger businesses sometimes have the ability to be proactive in offering advice, support, and mentorship for smaller businesses – a scenario that can be beneficial for both parties during uncertain times. Increased sensitivity and awareness are needed not only internally, but externally. We need to come together collectively at every level of the supply chain to ensure that not only our team members, but also our suppliers and customers feel supported.