October 9, 2020
There are widespread concerns regarding the impact of COVID-19 on staff mental wellbeing, with some feeling isolated working from home, some struggling to find a work life balance as the line between the personal life and the work life becomes blurred, and others are anxious about catching COVID-19 and potentially passing it on to loved ones.
Mental ill-heath is often described as the “invisible illness” as often there are no physical symptoms. Employers should be aware therefore that staff working from home can more easily hide the signs and symptoms of poor mental health.
Signs of staff mental ill-health could include:
a change in their standard of work
an inability to focus
appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn
a general change in their mood and personality
an increase in sickness absence
Looking after the mental wellbeing of staff not only attracts and retains valued staff, but it also makes business sense. Poor staff mental wellbeing reduces productivity, lowers morale, increases costs in relation to sickness absence, recruitment, and early retirement. Employers could also be subject to costly legal claims by staff if they fail to comply with their duty of care, including Disability discrimination claims and unfair dismissal claims.
Fflur Jones outlines some key recommendations for employers on how to support staff and prioritise their mental wellbeing, especially during this unprecedented time:
Communicate: maintain ongoing contact with your staff (especially those who are working from home), create a culture of openness, and make conversations about mental wellbeing “the norm”.
Training: train your staff (this can be done remotely via webinars) on how to look after their mental wellbeing, how to identify mental ill-heath in others, and how you can support them at work. This type of training should hopefully give your staff the confidence to talk about mental wellbeing at work and encourage healthy working practices.
Policies and procedures: ensure that you have a written ‘Stress at Work and Mental Wellbeing’ policy in place and that it is easily accessible to staff. You should also tell your staff that you have a (non-written) “open-door” policy, so they feel comfortable discussing any concerns they may have about their mental wellbeing and/or the mental wellbeing of other members of staff.
Workplace adjustments: talk to your staff about what provisions you could put in place to support their mental health. This obligation is ongoing so ensure you continue to keep an eye on the ball in relation to staff mental wellbeing, and consider whether you need to adapt any adjustments or practices to suit their needs.
Encourage healthy working practices: no employer benefits when their staff are struggling with burnout. Whilst a “work hard play hard” culture may sound impressive, in fact you’re much more likely to benefit from encouraging your staff to adopt healthy working practices. This includes encouraging them to take lunch breaks, use their holiday entitlement, and work sensible working hours.
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