Employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This includes mental health and well-being and you have the same duty of care to your staff during this COVID-19 pandemic as you do at any other time. Our working lives have been changing for a while now – but the emergence of coronavirus pandemic has led to a massive change, more uncertainty, and new challenges for many of us.
In a recent study conducted by ViewHR, we asked HR professionals what they thought was the most important thing they could do to support employee’s mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. It came as no surprise that regular communication including conducting one to one calls came out top.
Around the world, employers are increasingly worried about the wellbeing issues presented by the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic. Above all, the crisis brings potentially lethal consequences for our workforces but its mental health implications – stress, fear and uncertainty – can be equally devastating. In these very challenging times, being able to support your team is crucial.
As the COVID-19 crisis progresses towards the recover and reshape phases, many organisations look at new ways of addressing their workers’ changing social, emotional, physical and financial needs.
One of the biggest challenges for businesses who have moved to a remote working strategy in response to the COVID-19 health emergency, is how to support their employees’ wellbeing. While there are many potential upsides to working from home – the end of the commute and more control and flexibility over the working day – there can also be downsides including insecurity, isolation and anxiety.
How has Covid-19 affected our mental health?
We do not yet know exactly what the mental health impacts of COVID-19 will be. There are many factors to consider including the impact of the lockdown and ongoing restrictions such as social distancing and self-isolation. Some employees will remain fearful about contracting the virus, others will be anxious about family and friends. Some may have suffered bereavements during this time, often without the chance to say goodbye or attend funerals. There will also be fear about job security, returning to the workplace (including using public transport for commuting) and financial concerns. Some employees are working longer or more irregular hours and many are combining their work with home-schooling and other family responsibilities, leading to a poor work-life balance.
For the employer, this crisis is a big test of the employee benefits they provide that are designed to promote employee wellbeing: how will these benefits respond to the new challenges facing employees in this new working environment, particularly as businesses move on from the initial react phase and into the recover and reshape phases of their pandemic response.
So how do we improve the wellbeing stamina of your workforce as we navigate a course through this extraordinary global challenge?
The World Health Organization has published Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. This provides advice to a range of audiences, including team leaders and managers to protect staff from chronic stress and poor mental health during this response. Tips include:
- Ensure that good quality communication and accurate information updates are provided to all staff
- Rotate workers from higher-stress to lower-stress areas and functions
- Partner inexperienced workers with their more experienced colleagues – the buddy system helps to provide support, monitor stress and reinforce safety procedures
- Initiate, encourage and monitor work breaks
- Implement flexible schedules for workers who are directly impacted or have a family member affected by a stressful event
- Ensure that you build in time for colleagues to provide social support to each other
- Ensure that staff are aware of where and how they can access mental health and psychological support services and facilitate access to such services
- Be a good role model for self-care strategies.
See the full WHO guidance here.
Mental health charity MIND has also created a list of how you can support yourself and your team here.
Employers will need to adapt a range of measures to support employees experiencing poor mental health as a result of COVID-19. Measures will need to range from supporting employees to regain an effective work-life balance and addressing fears about return to work, right through to support for severe mental health conditions. Employers should also consider the impact of agile working; focusing on delivering communications effectively and looking at how their health and wellbeing benefits can provide additional support to affected employees.
The impact on mental health should not be overlooked, and employers should explore how they can help support employees’ emotional wellbeing during this period of uncertainty.