The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has brought with it uncertainty and unprecedented challenges.

Anxiety about the health implications and potential economic effects can be overwhelming. Employees’ health, safety and well-being during this pandemic should be of the upmost importance to employers. Effects on the mental health of your employees may include –

  • worry about the health and the health of their family and friends,
  • worry about job security,
  • increased stress from working at home and/or looking after children, due to school closures.

We are all now living under strict social distancing measures, including many people now home working, to delay the spread of the virus. Lots of people will not be accustomed to working from home and the loss of normal routines and social interaction may impact on someone’s mental health. What can employers do to help their staff cope with the current situation?

The Role of Managers

It is important for managers check in with staff regularly to make sure that they have a manageable workload and are not being overwhelmed.

There are strategies that managers can promote to their employees, including –

Taking Breaks 

Suggest to staff that they take a break from checking the news relating to the virus during work time, perhaps even turning off phone notifications. Whist staff will want to keep informed of the latest government guidance (and employers should recognise that), a constant stream of notifications can have a negative impact on mental health. In addition, speculation and misinformation on social media and dissemination amongst colleagues can increase anxiety and cause upset for some staff. Communicate with staff about this and encourage staff to avoid unhelpful gossip and speculation whilst at work and be mindful of their colleagues and how they might be feeling.

Signposting to Additional Support

If you have the resource, think about using occupational health or a workplace counsellor as a point of contact for staff to be able to talk openly and honestly about their feelings. It’s good to get someone else’s perspective as it’s easy to be overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions.

Quiet Time

Encourage staff to take a quiet moment away from their work space. Taking time to refocus or taking themselves away from a situation can be useful in preventing your employees feeling run down or burnt out.

Check-ins

Do continue to promote check-ins between managers and their team members to see how they are getting on. An individual’s mental health can become unpredictable, especially in the current environment.

Confidentiality

Ensure confidentiality between you and your employees and continue to build trust. Sensitive information may be being shared, and being respectful of this and ensuring confidentiality is important.

Employers should be mindful of the business strategies and policies they have in place to protect their employees and give thought to how they communicate these to their staff.

Particular thought should be given to keeping in communication with staff working remotely and staff should be encouraged to keep in contact with each other, perhaps by setting up chat groups on social media or apps ie WhatsApp, Zoom, House Party. That being said, it’s important that such groups don’t fuel anxiety and worry about the pandemic so whilst staff should be able to send informal messages, managers should ensure that the tone and content remains appropriate.

Remote Working Tips

The shift to working in isolation may result in increases of depression, loneliness and stress. In addition to the steps set out above, employers can support employees whilst they are working at home by providing guidance on effective home working. Tips you can share with staff include:

Sticking to normal routines – do not wake up five minutes before you need to log in and start working. Similarly, set limits on the hours you spend working and make time to switch off and unwind once you have logged off at the end of the day.

Work Space

If possible, finding a space in your home that you can designate to working and making sure it is kept uncluttered. Do not work in your bedroom, if possible, this should be kept as a place to rest. Discuss and create boundaries of your work space during your working hours with those you live with, although this may be more difficult with children.

Health and Well-being

Trying to eat healthy well balanced meals, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep. Physical and mental health are linked so it is important to eat well, take proper breaks and stay active. Unless you are unable to go outside, going outside for a walk during the day can be a really effective way to clear your mind and then refocus on work.

Keep In Touch

Keeping in regular contact with your team to make sure others are healthy and safe. There will always be greater risks for lone workers with no direct supervision. Regular updates of capacity and workloads will keep the team engaged. Make sure everyone knows how to contact each other if people do not have work mobile phones.

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Employees going through mental health issues should know that they are not alone and be encouraged to openly talk and communicate their thoughts and feelings without the fear of being judged, stigmatised or discriminated against.

The HR consultants at Narrow Quay HR are available to chat through any queries you may have related to new work arrangements under COVID-19. Please contact our HR specialists Caitlin Anniss on 07909 683 938, Sarah Martin on 07799 136 091 or Micaela Calcutt on 0117 314 5619 at Narrow Quay HR Consultancy.