Mental Health and Wellbeing Support

Over the last 6 months mental health and wellbeing support has become a hot topic, as data emerges about anxiety and stress levels in the context of returning to work and to the workplace.

What do we know?

Some key statistics regarding mental health and wellbeing are coming to light:

  • 72% or employers are planning to bring teams back to the office by mid-October 1
  • 33% of UK workers don’t have faith in their colleagues when it comes to hygiene protocols 1
  • 44% of workers are worried about sharing equipment 1
  • By end May 2020 calls to the UK’s national domestic abuse helpline had increased by 66% 2
  • The number of adults experiencing depression has doubled during the pandemic 3
  • 37% of people in the UK are suffering from high anxiety 3
  • 22% of those with no pre-existing mental health issues now report having ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ mental health 4
  • 65% of those with pre-existing mental health issues report that those issues are now worse 4

In the context of these statistics, fears of a mental health crisis seem well founded.

What does this mean for employers?

There are potentially many ways in which the mental health crisis will affect employees, as people will have had very different experiences of the pandemic. Here are some of the issues your employees may be having:

  • Job security – as more and more businesses announce job losses, anxiety about impending unemployment will be high
  • Isolation – for some remote working has left them feeling isolated and de-motivated
  • Mental and physical exhaustion – for many who had to balance work and childcare and/or home-schooling it has been extremely stressful and tiring, creating what could manifest itself as ‘burn-out’.
  • Personal relationship stress – spending such a long time in close proximity with partners may have put a strain on relationships
  • PTSD and bereavement – for anyone who contracted the virus, there are reports of potential longer term mental and physical issues; and those who have lost loved ones may still be dealing with grief and feelings of guilt

Employees may find it difficult to focus, concentrate and  stay motivated and engaged. For those who are working from home for the foreseeable future, the feeling of being disconnected from their colleagues may continue. Without interventions, these issues could result in both a downturn in productivity and difficult and sensitive employee relations issues to manage.

Pro-active employers will definitely be on the front-foot if they can support employees through the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

Why should employers focus on mental health and wellbeing?

As well as the ethical and moral arguments for supporting employees who are struggling, there is evidence to suggest that wellbeing could increase productivity by 12% and that unhappy staff could be 10% less effective. 5

If employers do provide support for their employees, they would undoubtedly become more resilient. If issues arise at any point in the future those employees will be able to manage more successfully, leading to less employee absence.

Employers will also find that how they treat people during this time will define them and their brand. Being supportive will drive both loyalty and make them a more attractive employer for the best talent in the longer term.

From a practical perspective, if employers ‘catch people’ before they fall, they will avoid difficult employee absence issues which can be time-consuming and expensive to manage.

There is also the issue of the duty of care employers have for employees. Employers have a duty to minimise risk of health and safety issues, and this includes the risk of mental health issues. Risk assessments should be done, steps taken to minimise risk and these should both be communicated to employees to ensure employers don’t breach of health and safety regulations.

In addition, as mental health issues can be regarded as a disability, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate and support those with mental health issues.

What can employers do?

There is a plethora of solutions to address the mental health and wellbeing. Here are some ideas:

Communication: Make people feel connected and find out how people are feeling.
  • Conduct regular group and individual check-ins
  • Hold virtual team meetings – peer or manager lead
  • Create virtual ‘pub’ meet ups over video conference
  • Appoint ‘check-in’ champions in each team who can re-create the ‘water cooler’ catch up moments
Line manager proactivity: Create a supportive environment.
  • Be a sympathetic ear – not just focussing on work / outputs
  • Train managers as Mental Health First Aiders
  • Ensure managers are keeping up to date with how individuals in their team are coping
  • If returning to workplaces is causing anxiety, ensure managers are discussing options and solutions to help address those anxieties.
  • Communicate with employees to reassure them about what the company is doing to minimise risks
Update or create a Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy

Re-visit your existing policy and update it to account for issues created by the coronavirus pandemic and different norms relating to work and workplaces. This will create the framework within which the business will function in this area, and create consistency.

Research, propose and implement a variety of support ideas to tackle the variety of issues people may be experiencing, to cover physical health, diet, financial health as well as mental health and wellbeing. All of these factors play a part in keeping employees healthy in body and mind.

If you would like to discuss support you could put in place for your employees, get in touch with Helpful HR here.

References:

1 – Solopress Survey via HR Review: https://www.hrreview.co.uk/hr-news/workers-fear-returning-to-work-due-to-colleagues-lack-of-hygiene/126356?utm_source=Gatormail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=HR+Daily+Friday+-+17-07-2020&utm_term=Government+bury+its+%27head+in+the+sand%27+in+response+to+House+of+Lords+IR35+report&utm_content=108317&gator_td=o3G5kc7rW2VpP8pLbvvPKX8i65b%2blZYHTpgu38q3MGha0tK5Q3sXgBaP1prmh6Uahsujuoe2CuGf6B3yFqphtXubssiphNgkvdH1KnKkAGx3lvuNf7CA%2bu8sK%2bvpNvjxNCLDEd8aOmaV9F4yS%2bf%2f2pCjx64K0MeyKpb1VszBRbl53pQV6Ng3a%2fnLQ8Dir5b9XfQusRxJpXxh1CL8mZhbHg%3d%3d

2 – Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/domestic-abuse-lockdown-reports-school-reopen-coronavirus-a9703926.html

3 – Office of National Statistics via People Management: https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/experts/legal/supporting-workers-mental-health-during-covid?utm_source=mc&utm_medium=email&utm_content=pm_daily_03092020.Employment+law%3a+Supporting+workers’+mental+health+during+Covid&utm_campaign=7295441&utm_term=1115500

https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/voices/comment/employers-must-act-restore-workforce-mental-health?utm_source=mc&utm_medium=email&utm_content=pm_daily_24072020.Opinion%3a+Employers+must+act+to+restore+their+workforce’s+mental+wellbeing&utm_campaign=7295441&utm_term=1115500

4 – Mind via People Management: https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/voices/comment/employers-must-act-restore-workforce-mental-health?utm_source=mc&utm_medium=email&utm_content=pm_daily_24072020.Opinion%3a+Employers+must+act+to+restore+their+workforce’s+mental+wellbeing&utm_campaign=7295441&utm_term=1115500

5 – University of Warwick study in 2015: https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/new_study_shows/

 

Supporting through Furlough – Communication

Many companies have furloughed employees due to the significant impact of the coronavirus. We’re not going to attempt to advise on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for the purposes of this blog, but if you do need support on this click here, for information provided by the government. Instead this blog post is about supporting through furlough with regular communication.

Why?

While your employees are furloughed you need to consider how you can keep them engaged with the business. There’s a danger of them being out of sight and out of mind. If this is how they feel, it will undermine your relationship with them. Any lack of proactivity in communicating with your furloughed employees could have a detrimental impact when they return to work.  Negative feelings about how they were treated during furlough could translate into a lack of motivation and productivity. Good levels of productivity when your employees return to work will undoubtedly be essential in keeping the business going, so anything you can do now to keep them engaged can only be a good thing.

How?

For small businesses with a handful of furloughed employees it may be easier to stay in touch on a 1-1 basis. A regular individual phone / video call or email may suffice and be manageable. If you’re a larger employer with more than 10 furloughed employees it may be more challenging. It might take a whole day to call or email each employee individually. Employee communication is important and individual contact will be appreciated, but currently that might not be the best use of your time. You will need to ensure you spend time on the operational aspects of the business and adapting to the industry landscape. Employee communication should not be to the detriment of the business. If time is an issue, this individual communication is likely to happen less frequently, and that may leave your furloughed employees feeling forgotten and disengaged.

Top tips for keeping in touch

If you do have a larger number of furloughed employees, here are some ideas for communicating with your furloughed employees:

  • Weekly update emails, outlining what’s happening in the business commercially. In addition you could communicate any further changes that have occurred as a result of coronavirus. You will also want to remind employees that if they have concerns they can contact you directly.
  • Regular Zoom meetings for teams to help them feel connected. No work should be done during these meetings, but there’s no reason why you can’t enable colleagues to catch-up.
  • Create a WhatsApp group which is available for everyone to engage in.  It can be used for chat and also for sharing any business information.
  • Create a Facebook group for employees. It can be a group for all employees, so that furloughed employees can engage with working employees.
  • Set up some online training sessions for furloughed employees which will enable them to keep their skills up-to-date.
  • Create a wellbeing communication channel. This should be separate to the business updates. You could send out emails with useful links, or create a Facebook page so employees can share resources to keep them healthy in body and mind during furlough.

These are just a few examples of what you can do. Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to monitor what your employees are saying so if there are any posts or messages of concern, you can address them proactively.

If you need any support in supporting through furlough, please do get in touch

Coming soon: More on managing through COVID-19

Leadership tips

Congratulations! You have achieved that long yearned for appointment or promotion in to a leadership role. The joy of your success may be palpable, and rightly so. However, an element of apprehension may make an appearance at some point.

Here are some top tips for any newly appointed leaders out there, to make sure you’re set for success.

Identify some quick wins

The first 100 days is a typical gauge of success, so speak to key people to identify some quick wins and find the right people to deliver them. Motivate, monitor and measure their progress, provide support and celebrate the successes. Make sure that the delivery of the quick wins sets the tone of your leadership style and be consistent.

Meet people and listen

Your success is dependent on other people, both in and outside of the business.  Make a commitment to meet:

  • your direct reports and key people in their teams
  • other leaders in the business (if you’re part of a senior leadership team)
  • key partners in other business areas, with whom you can share knowledge
  • key customers and suppliers

When you meet with them, ask questions about how things are going and what could be better. Listen to their thoughts and opinions and make notes.

Create a long-term plan

Whilst the quick wins serve a purpose, you also need to think long-term. Use the information from your initial meetings to identify the long-term priorities. Ensure you communicate to your team about these priorities and your reasoning. Ask for feedback, listen, then make a final decisive plan, identifying the ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘who’ and ‘when’ for each of your priorities.

Overcommunicate

Be visible and accessible. Arrange and stick to regular meetings with peers and direct reports, as well as key project leaders. Share information with them and ensure they share their progress with you.  Involve your direct reports in defining the ‘how’ in your plan. Your success is dependent on how it is delivered, as well as the ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘who’ and ‘when’.

There are many other things you could do, and there are many articles about successful leadership if you look for them. But these tips should help to send you off in the right direction. If you need support in a new leadership role, get in touch with Helpful HR.

How flexible are you?

Parents and carers were given the legal right to make a flexible working request in 2002. From 2014 any employee with over 26 weeks’ continuous employment with their employer has the right to request flexible working. However according to a recent CIPD report, Megatrends: Flexible Working, the number of employees working flexibly has flat-lined since 2010.

Why not be flexible?

Apprehension and at times downright negativity about flexible working is not unusual. Requests to work fewer hours, compressed hours and/or working from home often provoke this response. This is particularly the case if the employee making the request manages other employees. Employee visibility is the issue and managers think if they can’t see their staff, they don’t know they’re working. Managers question their employee’s honesty, convinced they will be ‘out shopping, or walking the dog when they should be working’.

Where does this lack of trust come from? Employers need consider if they expect employees to deal with work outside of their contractual working hours. If they expect flexibility but don’t reciprocate due to a lack of trust, employee goodwill will wane.

Reciprocal flexibility works

Perhaps this is a bit extreme, but trusted flexibility can work both ways to the benefit of everyone. It just requires a bit of extra thought about how it can work. If employees want flexibility and their employer gives it to them, their engagement, loyalty and commitment will increase. If employers refuse requests, employees will ask why they should go the extra mile when the company isn’t prepared to do the same for them. They will be less motivated and may begin to ‘work to rule’ or look for a job elsewhere. I don’t think any employer would want that outcome, especially at a time when the ‘war for talent’ seems tougher than ever.

Managing flexible employees

It’s a reality that some jobs really can’t be done flexibly, but every requests need to be considered properly, to see if it can be accommodated. Managers are often concerned about managing less visible employees. But if outcome-based objectives are set, it should be easy to identify and address a dip in performance levels. It’s entirely possible that managers feel overstretched and feel they don’t have the time or energy to consider how it might work. But companies that provide flexibility will benefit from increased talent retention, engagement and productivity. At a time when there are reported skills shortages, surely it’s worth the effort?

If you would like help managing flexible working in your company, or support in dealing with a request, please do get in touch.

Recruiting the best

Having the best talent in your business is key to its success. Whatever your business, if you don’t have the right people in the right roles, you may find achieving success difficult.

If you do hire the wrong person, the cost can be great. Of course there’s the financial cost of replacing people through the usual channels i.e. recruiter fees or advertising costs. It could also result in decreased productivity, decreased employee morale, not to mention the cost of management time and potentially, damage to your employer brand.

By introducing a sound recruitment process you stand a much better chance of hiring the people your business needs.

Our top tips for recruiting the right people
  • Make sure you have an up to date job description outlining the responsibilities of the role you need to fill, and what skills and experience needed.
  • Use the job description to shortlist applicants for interview by identifying relevant experience and skills.
  • Use the job description to create themes you would like explore at interview.
  • Prepare some welcoming questions, to put the candidate at ease, and smile!
  • Use the candidate’s CV to create questions in the themes you have identified.
  • Consider and prepare some probing questions to follow up.
  • Keep the questions on point, and avoid asking any personal questions. ‘Getting personal’ can potentially get you in to a world of trouble, so just avoid those questions altogether.
  • Interview in pairs, so you can really listen to the candidate and develop a rapport without worrying about taking notes, and agree with your interview partner who will ask which question in advance.
  • Allow time for the candidate to ask you questions, and think about how best you can ensure you’re presenting an attractive and authentic impression of the company.
  • Make sure you take notes of the actual answers given, rather than your thoughts or feelings about the candidate’s answer.

Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to interviewing and selecting the right person, but by adopting this approach you stand a better chance of recruiting someone who can actually do the job you need filled, and do it well.

If you would like help with your recruitment processes, please do get in touch with Helpful HR

The Season of Goodwill

As the festive season approaches, business leaders have probably been thinking about goodwill gestures they could make, to show their employees they recognise the value they bring to the success of the business. This might be an additional day off, or an end of year bonus and both or either of those options would obviously be very welcome, I have no doubt.

Is it reciprocal?

But how many business leaders approach the end of the year and consider goodwill from a different perspective; that of the employee? How many business leaders will question the goodwill their employees feel towards them as an employer? And how many employers have been pro-actively creating goodwill throughout the year, through their everyday working practices?

Why does it matter?

As Linda Ray commented here, employees who feel appreciated will have a positive attitude towards their employer. As a result they will be much more engaged and loyal, which will help to keep employee turnover rates low. This will lead to reduced recruitment and on-boarding costs, both in terms of money and time. Ultimately this employee engagement, when coupled with structured performance management processes will increase employee productivity and performance, making a direct contribution to the success of the company.

We can help

If you would like to find out more about how to gain or grow the goodwill of your employees, and discover how engaged your employees are, we can help, so get in touch with Helpful HR.

The Employment Status Conundrum

The ‘gig’ economy has been centre stage recently in the news and has caused confusion around individual’s employment and tax status.

Recent cases

Uber is adamant its drivers are NOT employees. However, an employment tribunal  concluded they are, ‘workers’.  Addison Lee  also had a recent employment tribunal judgement, which came to the same conclusion.

The consequences

These cases demonstrate the pitfalls of getting it wrong, on a large scale. The judgements of the tribunals have definitely provided Uber and Addison Lee with bucketloads of negative PR.  They also have the administrative headache of changing their status, backdated rights to holiday pay and the National Living Wage. There’s also a strong chance that HMRC will collect backdated employer’s tax contributions for all of their newly defined workers.

How to establish status

In order to avoid the same problems as Uber and Addison Lee, employers are well advised to make a proactive and honest assessment of people they hire and ask the following:

  • Does the individual work off-site?
  • Are they using their own equipment?
  • Is there a mutual obligation about you offering work and the individual having to accept work when offered?
  • Does the individual regularly work for other companies?
  • Can the individual send someone else of their choosing by way of a substitute, to carry out the work?
  • Does the individual control how or when the work is completed?

If the answer to one or more of the above questions is ‘no’, the individual you’re hiring is probably not self-employed. If you treat them as self-employed, in the long-term you may very well come up against some difficult and costly issues.

We can help

If you need any advice or support on determining the employment status of individuals working for your company and what it means, get in touch with Helpful HR.

What does being a ‘Manager’ mean?

I’ve come across several situations where a team, or individual members of a team, are suffering with low morale and poor performance. They’re on a downward spiral as not enough care and attention has been paid to the management of that team and the individuals within it.

Some managers genuinely think their Human Resources department are there to line manage each employee in the business. They don’t feel HR is part of their role and concentrate on providing functional business leadership.

Managing people as well as a function is not easy. As a manager you have several things to think about and probably several people, all with different needs and abilities. The role of HR is to help and guide managers through this aspect of their role and it’s a constant learning curve.

Top tips for successful management

I’ve come up with some ‘top tips’ for managers to help them flourish as a truly good manager:

GET TO KNOW YOUR TEAM.   You may think you know them, but have you spent any quality 1-1 time with them?Do you really know who they are, what they do, what they want to do and what they think of what they do? Regular 1-1s are invaluable and should be in the diary at least monthly.

ADAPT YOUR STYLE.   Remember that as the manager it’s your responsibility to adapt your management style to get the best out of your team. It’s not their job to adapt to you.

MANAGE PERFORMANCE.   Make sure you ask people in your team what they think of their performance. Ensure  you discuss and agree with them what their specific objectives are, and when they are expected to achieve them.

COMMUNICATE.   Ensure you communicate any non-confidential management and financial information to your team. This can include any information you think is relevant, useful and of interest. No-one really complains about being given too much information.

CELEBRATE DIVERSITY.   Accept and ENJOY the fact that you have people in your team with different goals, skills, experience and beliefs. Provided you’re all working to the same departmental goals, it’s a benefit to have such diversity within the team, so draw on it.

PROVIDE CLARITY.   Ensure that everyone in your team knows what their role is, what the boundaries are, where they have authority and what you expect of them.

This isn’t a definitive list, but it should set you up for success as a manager. If this doesn’t work, or you have a more specific need then that’s what your manager is for, to provide you with guidance.

If you advice and support to grow and develop to become the best manager you can be, get in touch. We can’t do the job for you, but we can definitely help!