Mental health concerns amongst UK employees have risen dramatically during the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. It was the top issue cited in a recent Unite survey, and 24 percent of adults experienced loneliness in the first eight weeks of the first lockdown – up from 10 percent in early March.
Stress and anxiety levels have risen with financial concerns, job security, living arrangements, strict social distancing and health concerns among the issues threatening to negatively impact individual well-being.
At a time when employees are away from their usual work environment and routine, it is crucial employers are effectively supporting them. It may be difficult to implement your previous well-being strategy with people working remotely and adjustments to usual structures. But there are still plenty of ways you, as an employer, can support your employees’ mental health and wellness.
Businesses big and small have had to make some dramatic decisions in recent months in order to navigate a path through the current pandemic and knock on strain on the economy.
For many, this has meant significant changes to the workforce – whether via the furlough scheme or, unfortunately, through letting employees go. Obviously, there is nothing an employer can say or do to change that reality if it comes to that for an individual, but you can demystify the process and be as open as possible to help alleviate some of the stress that comes with the unknown.
Employers should try their best to keep their workforce informed when it comes to the logic behind decisions and general timelines. Scheduling regular updates from top level figures with a clear message and being as transparent as possible can, at least, reduce some anxiety.
With loneliness on the rise, it is crucial management is keeping in regular contact with their team. And this means making sure managers are checking in on more than just work tasks.
Allocating real time to spend discussing life beyond work – checking in to see how your staff is coping at this strange time – can make a real difference to an individual’s well-being simply by knowing that they are being supported and can feel comfortable bringing up any issues.
Things like virtual coffee breaks or a casual online get together at the end of the week can replace the ad-hoc in-person meetings and conversations that occur in the office and have traditionally been the source of daytime moments of recovery.
People may be productive and happy working on their own but checking in with regular and meaningful contact is still important to show that a support system is there should they need it.
Flexible work was already on the rise but that has been dramatically accelerated in lockdown conditions with 73% of employers offering flexible working hours at this time.
If you are one of the 27% yet to so this could be greatly damaging not only productivity levels but the mental health of your staff.
Flexible working goes beyond working from home. For instance, with schools remaining closed, many employees are having to juggle their job with homeschooling their kids. Showing compassion for staff in this position by adding leeway to a typical 9-5 routine is key to protecting their mental health by reducing overload and burnout.
Figuring out a happy medium that maintains work productivity with a more modern working culture is set to be one of the big outcomes of a post-lockdown working world.
Promote Healthy Habits
Encourage employees to make the most of opportunities to exercise. The link between physical and mental health shouldn’t be ignored. Increased physical activity can help people sleep (and, therefore, recover) better, reduce stress and anxiety, and possibly even warn of depression.
And healthy habits go beyond exercise. Offer staff advice on setting up a healthly and productive workstation at home and help them switch off in the evenings by avoiding out of hours emails that can blur work and home life even more.
Every company should have a wellness strategy in place. Making sure staff know who they can go to discuss any mental health related issues, or what resources are available to help build resilience and general well-being is crucial. Sending out a company-wide reminder email with all of this information would be a good starting point at this time.
But there are also so many great resources beyond the workplace that could be useful to individuals – after all, they may feel more comfortable seeking help and support outside of their immediate work surrounding.
Organizations such as Mind or Mental Health UK are full of useful information and sharing these details can help let staff know there is a safety net out there for them if they feel their mental health is suffering.
The Coronavirus pandemic, and its impact on working life, is sure to be felt beyond the lockdown period. Simply put, it is unlikely the way we work will ever return to exactly the way it was before the pandemic.
While nobody knows exactly what the new way of working will look like, this unusual situation does provide an opportunity to bounce back better when it comes to prioritizing well-being and finding the right balance that lets business prosper but protects the wellness of individual staff.
Do you want to support your employees’ well-being in tough times?
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