With COVID-19 (coronavirus) creating a new and challenging landscape, it is becoming more important to consider the mental health and wellbeing of your staff.
Is the COVID-19 crisis likely to lead to an increased risk of mental health issues?
Unfortunately yes. There have been many papers published demonstrating that COVID-19 is already having a seriously detrimental impact on individual mental wellbeing. The impact may stem from direct consequences such as the loss of a loved one from COVID-19, unemployment or reductions in pay under the furlough scheme resulting in financial worries or even homelessness. The pandemic has also caused many indirect mental health issues which studies have found are affecting most of us in one way or another. These indirect issues are for example, worries about catching or spreading the virus, lockdown and social distancing measures which make us feel isolated and lonely, fear for the future of jobs and even the anxiety of returning to work.
The result of these mental wellbeing issues can make it more difficult for employees to cope with day to day life, enjoy their jobs, perform well or even interact with colleagues and clients.
So what do employers need to be aware of?
Employers have a legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of their staff which includes their mental health, while at work, so far as is reasonably practicable. Employers are becoming more aware of what they need to do for staff while they are in work but COVID-19 is creating new challenges and therefore further consideration is needed for those working from home and those going into work during the pandemic.
When an employer is assessing its responsibilities in relation to the mental health and wellbeing of its staff it should take into consideration the following:
- Are staff being supported? For example, is the employee aware of who they can talk to?Is their line manager in regular contact with them? Are employees being kept up to date with information concerning the business?
- Is the employee aware of any changes that may affect their role? For example, has their working environment changed? has the employer explained how it will be dealing with health and safety? What is expected of the employee and their own obligations? Can they work flexibly? How will staff be managed and supervised while working from home?
- Are there clear policies in place in relation to mental health? Is there have a mental health policy? Are managers trained to spot mental health issues early or are there mental health first aiders in the organisation? Finally, do the staff know who can be contacted if they have an issue around mental health that they would like to address?
Assessing and implementing these measures will assist employers in managing and hopefully preventing mental health issues becoming problematic for employees.
What other practical tips can employers and employees use to support mental wellbeing during this time?
- Stay connected: by holding regular Zoom or Teams calls. From my own personal point of view we have a daily Teams call and it is refreshing to check in on everyone from the team and bounce ideas off one another while we are working from home. We also get weekly updates from our Managing Partner who keeps all of the firms up to date on steps taken by the leadership team in dealing with COVID-19
- Be flexible: Everyone reacts to crises in their own way. Some individuals may need a greater degree of flexibility in how they can work particularly those with caring responsibilities. Consideration could be given to temporarily changing working patterns or ensure the employee has everything they need whether at home or at work to work safely.
- Remind staff to exercise and eat well: our disputes team are undertaking a 260-mile challenge for charity and other departments are battling fitness out on Strava. A little healthy competition or collective target can keep everyone in good spirits.
- Be supportive: check in on your colleagues, even those you might not work with on a day to day basis. Some people may be on lockdown alone-they may welcome some contact during this period.
- Look out for signs of stress: If you or you notice a colleague suffering from a mental health issue direct them towards any available help.
The impact of COVID-19 is likely to last for some time. Simple awareness and kindness are fundamental responsibilities of an employer. Managing mental health issues successfully will not only assist the individual but will in turn increase loyalty and performance within the workplace.