As working from home and self isolation become the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses must take the time and care to support the mental health of their employees.
At Claremont Consulting, supporting our staff, alleviating any concerns they might have around their wellbeing and providing them with both reassurance and everything they need to stay safe while working from home is imperative.
Laying plans to operate normally while protecting our staff allows us to sustain the business and maintain productivity during these challenging circumstances.
However, the simple truth is that millions of people in the UK and globally will undoubtedly experience varying levels of stress over this period. It comes as little surprise given the challenges of juggling working from home, homeschooling children and managing finances.
This appears set to continue as Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work following his own bout of Coronavirus and urged people to adhere to the lockdown rules for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, researchers at the University of Cambridge say that the effects of lockdown and COVID-19 itself on mental health could be deep and long-term and that urgent studies are required to assess its impact.
Writing in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, Prof Ed Bullmore, head of the university’s department of psychiatry, called for real-time monitoring of mental health issues and said: “The pandemic is clearly having a major social and psychological impact on the whole population, increasing unemployment, separating families and various other changes in the way that we live that we know are generally major psychological risk factors for anxiety, depression and self-harm.”
This comes as the World Health Organisation announced that people need to be “mentally prepared” that the Covid-19 pandemic is “nowhere near over”, with global health officials adding that “the challenge now is how to have an exit strategy that doesn’t result in the disease bouncing back."
Left unchecked, stress can result in serious health implications on both a mental and physical level. Symptoms include heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and insomnia.
The NHS, World Health Organisation and Mental Health Foundation have all released guidance, advice and up-to-date information on how people can protect their own mental health during the outbreak.
Good mental health is essential for workers as it helps to effectively unite people towards a common goal and adopt a ‘business as usual’ stance, which will help to protect your business’s reputation and profitability during this time.
Improved wellbeing at work also results in increased clarity in decision making and problem solving, which keeps human error to a minimum. Ultimately, a working ethos which pays attention to mental health issues results should add value and boost morale across any business.
Implementing steps to boost employee wellbeing will help people to support those colleagues who might be suffering from stress, anxiety or depression. It also helps to normalise the subject, remove any stigma and encourage people to talk more openly about their mental health state.
Here, we share our approach to supporting the mental wellbeing and health of our workforce during the Coronavirus outbreak:
Organise daily and weekly check-ins via video conferencing technology such as Zoom or Skype so that you can catch up with your team face-to-face. This is good for alleviating feelings of isolation while ensuring everyone is up-to-date with your latest business developments and updates.
Keep the lines of communication flowing with employees. Instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Slack or G-chat enable key updates and notifications to be shared and allow workers to express their thoughts and feelings. Even a casual, non-business related chat with colleagues over instant messaging can help to lessen any feelings of isolation.
Temporary home working arrangements need to be carefully managed and devising a crisis management policy will help to avoid problems such as homeworkers feeling isolated or working excessive hours. A comprehensive policy will cover a number of key areas, including procedures around remote working. It should advise people on how to successfully work from home, the tools they need to get the job done and how to conduct meetings.
Administer frequent wellbeing surveys to assess how your employees are feeling and to identify any shifts in attitude. This will help to benchmark their current thoughts while highlighting red flags and areas that require more attention and support.
Update the entire company regularly with communications on the situation and allow for real-time employee feedback.
Provide employees with all of the necessary tools and technology to work from home to the best of their ability, such as the necessary bandwidth to carry out daily tasks and collaborative software such as Google’s G Suite. Offer subsequent remote training for any new working from home technology requirements.
Provide weekly NHS and Government round-ups on key topics like self-care, staying safe and the latest key developments around the disease.
Communicate what the company is doing, how you are doing it and what is likely to happen next. This will help employees to feel reassured that every scenario has been accounted for.
Regular incentives and activity targets help to maintain team spirit. Think along the lines of early Friday finishes, quizzes and tournaments.
Provide online training and personal development tools that people can complete at home and while enjoying the satisfaction of keeping busy and learning new skills.
Devise a mental health toolkit containing useful information from various related charities, such as the Mental Health Foundation, and arrange a call to help your employees get to know the associated techniques, tools and coping mechanisms.
Encourage staff to take regular screen breaks, exercise, eat well and to finish work at a reasonable time without the expectation to check emails well into the evening as the lines between personal and professional space might become more blurred at home.
Taking these steps will enable you to protect your workforce and sustain operations, all while putting your business in a strong position to hit the ground running once this global crisis is resolved.
Stay tuned to the Claremont Consulting blog for more advice on navigating through COVID-19.