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Supporting employees’ mental wellbeing as the ‘new normal’ begins

29 June 2020

Wellness

Posted on: 29 June 2020

Promoting mental wellbeing in the workplace has arguably never been so important. The COVID-19 crisis has challenged the resilience of all of us – although the mental health and wellbeing implications of this will vary from employee to employee. Everyone is dealing with disruption to daily life as well as additional challenges like anxiety, stress, or bereavement.

Employers will have different priorities depending on the nature of their business and how staff are currently deployed.

Employees in key worker roles

Many staff will be working under significantly increased pressure that may make them more vulnerable to stress or other mental health conditions. For example: food production & retail, transport, health, and care workers.

Throughout the crisis, these workers will likely have continued attending their workplace and/or had contact with customers/service users, putting them at increased risk of contracting the virus. As a result, they may have experienced increased anxiety about their own health or the health of people they live with.

They may also have been working longer hours than usual or managing a heavier workload. Being on the frontlines means that some might be suffering the emotional impact of dealing with traumatic events. Without the right support, these factors can lead to stress, exhaustion and ultimately, burnout.

Employees working from home

At this point in time many employees have been exclusively working from home for several months. Employers will need to manage their return to the workplace on a phased and adjusted basis in the weeks and months to come.

Some staff may be anxious about returning to a physical workplace, including using public transport or staying safe in the work environment. Employers need to demonstrate that the wellbeing of their staff is a priority and highlight the steps they are taking to keep people safe.

Asking staff to shift away from home working will mean a period of adjustment for everyone, especially as the post-COVID-19 workplace will look quite different. Communication is key. Discuss with employees how your organisation has planned for the return and what both sides will need to do to make it a success. Ensure ongoing dialogue and regular contact following the return to work so that employees can flag up any concerns.

So how can employers support workers as they continue in their job?

  • Make sure they have the right equipment to stay protected whilst carrying out tasks
  • Regular communications on the steps you are taking to follow government guidance and ensure a safe working environment. For instance, social distancing, use of screens, more frequent cleaning etc
  • Highlight available support for mental wellbeing and actively encourage employees to make use of these facilities
  • Ask line managers to schedule regular wellbeing check-ins and keep an eye out for mental health warning signs – provide training if needed
  • Put additional resources in place. For instance, offering an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). This has a confidential phone line which staff can call 24/7 to speak with a trained advisor about anything that’s worrying them and get actionable advice. They can also arrange sessions with a professional counsellor, either over the phone or by meeting face-to-face. 
  • Be aware of personal circumstances – for instance, some staff may have health conditions which makes it riskier for them to return to work; or continuing responsibilities around caring for children or other relatives.

Employers need to be mindful that each employee is different, and whilst some might be relishing the chance to get back to a form of normality, there are others who may be less keen.

While mental health is understandably high on the agenda at the moment, a complete wellbeing strategy can make a long-term difference to productivity across the workforce. Mental, physical, financial and social wellbeing are all linked, and a successful strategy needs to embrace all of these aspects.

If you’d like to find out more about how to support mental wellbeing in the workplace, please download our free report here

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