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