Several months of lockdown and isolation has caused damage to many peoples’ psychological and mental health. Mental health challenges such as anxiety have increased by 44% in post-covid workplaces, which has had a significant impact on employee productivity and engagement.
As companies discuss the possibilities and solutions associated with re-entering the workplace and welcoming people back, they must consider the stress and anxiety the recent pandemic has put on their workforce.
As such, the average number of people taking stress-related leave has also risen by three-quarters (74%) when comparing to the first quarter of 2021 to the first quarter of 2019.
This toll on mental health has been reflected in employees’ attitudes. In a separate poll conducted by e-days, 58% reported feeling exhausted rather than excited as the summer months are approaching.
When asked to choose between money or time to take for themselves, almost two-thirds (62%) said they would prefer to take an additional day off each year.
The Stress Management Society advises that employees should be able to openly discuss stress and its effects, share their coping mechanisms and take time out of the day to look after themselves and relax.
Employers will need to adapt a range of measures to support employees experiencing poor mental health because of COVID-19 and its effects on society and the economy. Measures will need to range from supporting employees to regain an effective work-life balance and addressing fears about returning to work, right through to support for severe mental health conditions.
Employers, particularly those who have employees working in front line response roles, should act now to put necessary support in place.
What remains important is that people experiencing poor mental health are not labelled by focusing on a diagnosis, and instead discussions and support focus on the impact it has on them at work.
Steve Arnold, founder of e-days, commented on this research; “With much of the UK workforce feeling exhausted and needing time out as we approach what is hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s vital that employers recognise the importance of a well-supported workforce.
No business can afford to ignore the doubling of stress-related leave in such a short period of time – this affects us all. However, financial incentive is not the be-all-and-end-all of workplace benefits: the key to a motivated workforce is an employer that understands just how much absence matters.”
The complex nature of well-being and mental health means that there is no single solution for supporting the returning to the workplace. It is now clear that any return to workplaces will be gradual and phased.
It is likely that many employees will continue to work primarily from home for the foreseeable future. As well as some former homeworkers returning to the workplace, as the furlough scheme ends some employees will also be returning to work for the first time in several months; this may include returning to a physical workplace or working from home.
Where employees do return to the workplace, they may be working a range of different patterns and hours to allow for effective social distancing. Of course, some employees never left work, continuing to work in essential and key roles under a range of challenging circumstances.
The continuing threat of the virus will also mean that many employees will also be working whilst retaining care or childcare responsibilities and have other pressing personal issues that may have an impact on their mental health.
Even if employees are not experiencing poor mental health, they may have concerns and fears about return to a physical workplace, including using public transport or staying safe in the work environment.
Managers should be checking in with their teams, individually, on a regular basis. Ideally, this check in should be “face to face” via virtual meeting. This will help managers to be alert to signals of poor mental health.
Encourage managers to have a well-being conversation; provide them with a simple framework or questions that they can ask their teams. HR must ensure that managers have a clear process to follow in the event of a mental health disclosure because of a check-in conversation.
Managers should be trained on the potential signs of poor well-being and mental health, as well as how to handle a disclosure of a mental health condition. Managers do not need to become mental health experts, but they do need to know how to identify and refer.
Where managers are concerned about the mental health of their employees, they should signpost to relevant support services. HR should ensure that managers are briefed on any services that are available, such as Occupational Health and EAPs.
There are many reasons in the current situation why employees may be unable to be as productive as they would be under normal circumstances. Managers should be sensitive to this and recognise that expectations may need to be adjusted in the short term or if certain situations arise (such as the temporary closure of a school). Existing objectives, workloads and deadlines should be adjusted to consider the evolving context.
It’s important to remember to also check in on yourself, ensure that you are looking after your own wellbeing and mental health. This is a learning curve for many so it’s important to remain as transparent and supportive as possible to provide guidance for your employees at this difficult time.
Information sourced from CIPD