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

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.

Keep it civil

Rudeness at work seems to be on the rise. In a survey by Professors Porath and Pearson, 40% of respondents said they had ‘no time to be nice’ and 25% said they were rude because their bosses behaved that way. We live in a busy world and people have many demands on their time. That’s not news, but in the words of Harry Hart (quoting William Horman) in Kingsman: The Secret Service, “manners maketh man”. Something has obviously gone wrong. Is politeness a thing of the past?

What’s the impact of rudeness?

There’s a great opportunity for business leaders and senior managers to have a positive impact on this issue, and ensure everyone in their business is treated respectfully as a result. 48% of employees on the receiving end of rudeness intentionally decreased their work effort and 47% intentionally decreased the quality of their work. Rudeness at work causes commitment to decline, turnover to increase, productivity to plummet and recruitment costs to increase. By creating a polite and respectful workplace, commitment and productivity will increase and your turnover and recruitment costs will decrease, because you’ll be able to attract and retain the best talent.

What can you do?

Small changes can make a big difference, so here are our top tips for creating a respectful workplace.

  • Be friendly, greet people warmly, say ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’.
  • Give 100% of your attention in meetings. Put your phone down and engage in the matter at hand. The meeting will probably be shorter and more focussed as a result.
  • Listen to your team members’ thoughts and ideas – they may be on to something.
  • Make it clear that rudeness won’t be tolerated and there are no excuses for it. If you make politeness part of day to day interactions, it will be contagious, so the impact could be huge.
  • If you see rudeness, address it directly, and encourage employees to report any incidents to their line manager.
  • Establish a staff forum where employees can share concerns with a nominated senior team member and discuss how the concerns could be addressed.
  • Hire and retain employees who exhibit the ‘right’ behaviours.
  • Lead by example, regardless of who you’re talking to and your own stress levels.
  • Carry out exit interviews to find out what employees really think.
  • Train and coach line managers in respectful people management practices.

If you’re concerned about behaviours in your company and want to discuss ideas on how to address it, get in touch.

Celebration season

I’ve lost count of the number of advertisements I’ve seen for Christmas parties recently, aimed at both families and companies. It’s time to get that work Christmas party venue booked and make plans for the entertainment and catering!

Health Warning!

It’s easy to forget about the potential pitfalls of a work Christmas party. If you provide employees with an unending supply of alcoholic beverages the party can take a turn for the worse.

The case involving Northampton Recruitment Limited from 2011 is still going through the Court of Appeal almost 7 years later. It serves as a stark reminder that sometimes alcohol combined with a work social event can result in problems for employers. It can result in minor indiscretions and over exuberance which is not entirely unexpected. But in a (hopefully) small number of cases, it can result in behaviour which is career-limiting, or worse.

Tips for success

Each year a large number of articles are written about the perils of office parties. They offer advice to employers on how to make sure the celebrations go smoothly.

Our 5 top tips are:

  • Make sure employees know that office parties are an extension of work.  Even if the party is off-site and after normal working hours everyone should behave professionally. It IS possible to have fun AND remain professional at the same time.
  • Consider how people will get home late at night.  Ensure you communicate the parameters before the event, for example if and when it’s acceptable to take a taxi home.
  • Try to limit the amount of free alcohol available, and include non-alcoholic drinks. With the best will in the world, some people just don’t have the self-control to turn down free drinks.  Don’t make it too easy for employees to over-indulge.
  • When planning the party, include an activity for employees to engage in. It could provide a team-building opportunity, as well as a distraction from continuous drinking and ensures the event caters for those who don’t drink alcohol.
  • Ensure the senior team lead by example, take responsibility and monitor employee behaviour. That way they can address any issues before they get out of hand.

Following these top tips should ensure a good-time is had by all. If you’re lucky, no-one will be dreading returning to work the morning after – although I make no promises on that front!

If you’re worried about your Company’s Christmas party, or need any advice in dealing with the aftermath of a Company social event of any kind, please do get in touch.

Managing Sickness Absence

Current statistics tell us that on average each year businesses lose a working week per employee to sickness absence. If your company has 10 employees, you could be losing 10 working weeks each year. A lot of business owners don’t measure the real cost of absence, but it’s definitely something they worry about.

Whilst we know everyone gets sick from time to time, effective absence management and a clear policy ensures you stay on the front foot. It will prevent a sickness absence issue from becoming a problem, financially or in terms of productivity and quality.

Top-tips for your sickness absence policy:
  • Make sure employees know when and who to call when they are unable to attend work due to sickness. Insist on a telephone call where possible.
  • Include the requirement to provide a ‘Fit Note’ covering continuous periods of absence longer than a week
  • Have a policy of carrying out return to work interviews with employees consistently for any sickness absence
  • Introduce a Sickness Absence Review process with clear trigger points, to flag high levels of absence and discuss constructively with employees
  • Ensure the Sickness Absence Review process covers short and long-term absence
  • Manage expectations around sick pay by stating the policy clearly. Ie if you have company sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay, and when they apply
  • State that the company can require employees to attend a medical examination with a doctor should it deem necessary
  • Include information and links about any support available through company benefits, or public bodies/charities
  • Ensure the policy covers support the company provides on mental health issues

By following these top tips for putting together your policy, you can address any sickness absence issues arising before they reach unacceptable levels.

If you’re worried about sickness absence in your business and would like help to introduce a policy so you can manage sickness absence, get in touch.

 

Sporting Life

This month we’ve watched Radio 2’s Zoe Ball struggle through cycling 400 miles from Blackpool to Brighton entitled “Zoe’s Hardest Road Home”. We also saw Radio 1’s Greg James struggle with his “Pedal to the Peaks” challenge, which the Beast from the East put a stop to. Watching these Sport Relief challenges, we’re encouraged not only to donate to the cause, but to take on a physical challenge ourselves.

Since the start of 2018, every month there has been something in the media which drives healthy living. In January it was Dryanuary, in February it was the Winter Olympics and in March it’s the aforementioned Sport Relief.

The benefits

While we may start to tire of feeling pressure to exert ourselves, the benefits of encouraging physical activity cannot be underestimated.

Did you know?

  • 80% of commuting employees felt more energised after a walk to the office
  • 74% of employees acknowledge that getting outside during a working day improved their mood
  • 85% of employees believe keeping active is good for their mind and body
  • 94% of employees said exercising relieves stress

(Source: Asics survey|2017)

These results show employees really value physical exercise. Businesses could also enjoy the benefits of having a more energised, happy and less stressed (if not stress-free) employee population. Unfortunately, despite the benefits, over half of employees felt work prevented them from going to the gym. (Source: HR Grapevine|2017)

What next?

Businesses which promote and support the healthy practices employees value could see an increase in employee engagement and in turn, productivity.

One size doesn’t fit all, but if you’d like to find out what you could do to promote the health and wellbeing of employees in your business, please do get in touch.

Blue Monday?

Apparently this coming Monday, 15th January 2018, is ‘Blue Monday’, the most depressing day of the year.  January can be a tough month after the (hopefully) joyous Festive Period and a welcome break from work. But can we really pick one day out of the 31 in January, or the 365 in the year, and say that this coming Monday 15th January 2018 is the most depressing of all?

The science bit

The term Blue Monday was, so we’re told, invented by the marketing team at Sky Travel in 2005 in an attempt to encourage people to buy a holiday at a quiet time of year. There’s even a formula for calculating the date, which includes weather, debt, days ‘til payday, time since Christmas, resolutions broken. It also includes some feeling factors which somewhat compromise the ‘science bit’.

Resistance is not futile

There’s definitely a case for rebellion here. January is tough, but we shouldn’t be told how to feel on a particular day, should we? There are enough challenges to face in this fast-moving world, so let’s all resist this phenomenon! To help us, there’s even a website dedicated to encouraging positive acts on Blue Monday.

Blue at work

The Blue Monday phenomenon does have potential implications for businesses. There may be many people who believe the hype and expect to feel blue on Monday 15th January 2018. And purely for this reason, they may succumb to the negative feelings Blue Monday is designed to exploit.

Be part of the solution

What can employers do to counter these negative feelings? We live in a time when businesses are struggling and ‘austerity’ feels like it has become part of our culture. So how can you motivate a workforce who are feeling the pinch and maintain positivity at work?

There’s no easy, one-size fits all answer. People are motivated in different ways, whether it’s hitting advertising targets and achieving bonus, or receiving accolades for good performance.

Top tips

Here are 5 top tips that should support the rebellion against Blue Monday:

  • Spend time getting to know your team as individuals. Find out hat they enjoy, what motivates them, how they like to be recognised.
  • Make sure you diarise regular 1-1s with your team for the year. Show your commitment to them through the giving of your time.
  • Give thought to what you can do to help them achieve their career aspirations. It may be development, training, work-shadowing, job swapping, coaching and/or action planning. There are many possibilities to consider.
  • Start the year with a team meeting to share ideas and make a plan for the year ahead to which everyone can contribute.
  • Consider a physical activity, to get those endorphins flowing, maybe a team walk at lunchtime, or a sponsored activity which everyone can engage in.

These top tips should help to create a positive working environment where employees can flourish at any time of year. Developing an open, inclusive work place where everyone feels valued will definitely help to build this positivity.

So, while these top tips won’t necessarily stop people from being conned into feeling Blue on this coming Monday, it might help in the longer term.

If you would like to find out more about what you can do to build a positive working environment, we can help, so do get in touch with Helpful HR.