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In this edition of Expert Perspective, Flagship’s Mike Thompson, President, Integrated Facilities Management discusses mental health and facilities management. Mike has more than 20 years’ experience in IFM, including operations across regulated manufacturing sites, R&D campuses, distribution centers, retail banking, and data operations centers.
I’m passionate about facility management and mental health. I chair the board of a local not-for-profit that provides mental health services in our community (check out www.counselingforall.org). After seeing our client sessions drop in March and April of 2020, we finished the year with a record number of sessions delivering many of them via telehealth. Many of those sessions involved clients who struggled with the stress of the pandemic . . . and they continue to do so.
And as a special tribute to World Health Day (April 7), I’d like to take a moment to discuss how facilities management can support not only the physical health, but also the mental health of employees, customers and all occupants.
There is clear connection between mental health and facility management. . .
Vaccinations continue to gain momentum, with approximately 15% of U.S. population fully vaccinated against coronavirus, as of this publication. The CDC provided clear guidelines for re-opening schools. The trend for new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continues to fall. Dr Fauci said that vaccines will be widely available in April, and many states are allowing anyone that wants a vaccine to sign up and get one.
Despite promising news, new virus variants, vaccine distribution gaffes, and a fair amount of misinformation combine to paint a mixed COVID-19 picture. That mixed picture creates real stress.
There’s no place like home
Home can be stressful with school-age kids and parents vying for Wi-Fi bandwidth. School-age children especially miss the socialization and interaction that comes with being in the classroom.
Sandwich-generation parents, adults with both children and aging parents, bear the stress of caring for both ends of their family spectrum.
People everywhere suffer from employment, housing, and food insecurity. These stressors present a constant strain for many . . . and many are genuinely fearful about the daily life activities involved in going to work.
How can your facility support mental health?
What can a facility manager (FM) do to support mental health? Good FMs stay current with what’s happening in their industry. By tapping into guidance and research from IFMA, the CDC, and others, FMs can develop a strategy to prepare their workspace for occupants returning to it.
What does preparing the facility have to do with mental health? Everything . . . especially when those preparations include a fact-based, open, communication strategy.
Performing indoor air quality (IAQ) studies, upgrading air filters, introducing bipolar ionization technology, increasing fresh air turns, installing plexiglass at reception desks, installing touchless restroom fixtures, distributing sanitation stations and masks around the work place, hanging signage reminding people to remain socially distant, increased cleaning regiments . . . all of these will contribute to a safer work place . . . and while they will not eliminate the risk of COVID-19, when all of these actions are taken together they will decrease the risk.
The importance of communication
It is critical that FMs openly share their efforts to address COVID-19 along with expected behaviors upon returning to the workplace with their occupants.
Keeping the workplace population informed of the efforts to make their return safer, along with telling them what is expected of them (e.g. you need to wear your mask unless you are alone in a private office , you are expected to minimize gatherings at the printer) will give occupants some sense of certainty.
Your occupants know that no efforts will create a 100% risk free environment. But when they see and understand the FM team’s efforts to reduce the risk, when they know what’s expected of them while in the workplace (e.g. masks), then they know that the FM team is focused on their safety.
That focus gives occupant a sense of certainty, and in doing so reduces some level of anxiety they may feel.
There will continue to be many unknowns as workers prepare to re-enter shuttered facilities.
Using public transportation, riding an elevator, being in close proximity to many others outside of your household every day . . . man is there a lot of uncertainty out there.
But a multi-pronged approach that includes not only improving the physical qualities of the workplace, but communicates those improvements and expected behaviors, can make the return less stressful . . .
. . . and lower stress leads to improved mental health.
Flagship's customizable approach to your facility's needs will help you protect occupants and your assets now and into the future.