20th May 2020
This week is Mental Health Awareness week and it couldn’t have come at a more poignant time as the UK enters its 9th week of lockdown.
The theme for this year’s awareness week is simply ‘kindness’. Earlier this year we saw the message of ‘be kind’ flooding the media as the news of Caroline Flack’s death saw the country reflect on mental health. However, the ‘be kind’ message was swiftly forgotten at the start of the pandemic when we saw families fighting in supermarkets and people stockpiling essential items. Hopefully, after a period of solitude and communities coming together to support each other, the simple message of kindness can return.
All employers have a duty of care for their employee’s health and wellbeing in the workplace. This responsibility is still applicable when all or some of your employees are working remotely due to the covid-19 pandemic.
Although it may be obvious to business owners, managers and directors that they need to ensure their staff are physically safe from harm by providing protective equipment and reducing risk of injury, it is just as important to consider the mental health of employees whether or not they are still working in the office or remotely from home.
So how do you exercise this duty and ensure that your employees are working safely when they are not physically visible in the workplace?
Some ideas to put into practice that will ensure that you are taking care of your valued employees and adhere to your legal responsibilities.
It is important that all members of the team are kept in contact with. It is crucial to regularly ‘check in’ and make sure they have all the support they need. This will not only assist you in being able to monitor work/tasks being completed, but will provide you with the opportunity to check how staff members are managing and identify if any adjustments need to be made.
Make sure that during your regular check ins and any other contact that you communicate clearly with your staff. Making sure they are aware of expectations, processes and policies. When struggling with stress, anxiety or lack of sleep it can be difficult to digest information. Summarise virtual meetings with a follow up email, use bullet points and keep emails concise.
Make sure your team members know who to contact if they are struggling with their mental health and support them by providing details for further help. Links to useful websites or leaflets on a staff intranet are a good starting point, but check they are from reliable sources such as Public Health England.
Spot Stress Symptoms
It is difficult to support an employee who is suffering if you cannot spot the signs of struggle. Often people battling mental health problems will try very hard to cover it up and continue to work, so try to take notice of any small changes in behaviours. Ideally your management teams should be trained in how to notice and manage mental health.
Make the Workplace a Covid-19 Free Zone
If your place of work is still open, then consider setting aside time where the coronavirus topic is not to be discussed. Covid-19 has been the only topic of conversation for weeks on end and it is healthy for employees to have a break from the constant media noise. Discourage workplace gossip and keep any known cases of Covid-19 confidential.
Be Supportive of Needs
If you are contacted by a member of your team who is struggling, make sure you listen to their concerns and make the necessary changes in order to support them with their work.
Shift Leadership Style
It is important to be empathetic at times like this and to be flexible and understanding of your employee’s needs. A good leader will adapt their management style in a crisis to remain respected and calm the situation. If you are usually more of a dictator, then now may be a time to be creative and work collaboratively with your team in order to all pull together.
Remain in Control
Do all you can to ensure that your workplace is following all the guidelines, providing hand washing facilities, antibacterial hand gel and reducing contact. Putting protective measures in place will help ease your employee’s anxiety and give them peace of mind and is vital in your workplace being able to fully re-open as restrictions are lifted. You should also ensure that employees who are working from home are given the same information and guidance with tips on how they should be keeping themselves safe at home.
Keep Employees Up-to-Date
Staff may be worried about their job security or the future of the business during these challenging times. Be transparent and reassuring. For obvious reasons your staff are not privy to management information, but it is important to update them with any changes or decisions that may affect their role. Silence can be deafening, so even if you feel that there isn’t much to say, a quick update ‘from the top’ will be welcomed from those feeling a little dis-attached working from home.
Understandably, you may have a number of staff members who are feeling anxious about coming back to work once restrictions are eased. You may also have team members who are struggling with their mental health, perhaps from losing a loved one to Covid-19, being ill themselves or from mental health struggles whilst in isolation. It is important that you support your workforce with their return to work, making sure there know where to go for advice and communicating openly.
We are keeping an ear close to the ground for any new guidance and legislation from the government in order to keep our clients and contacts updated as businesses navigate their way through unchartered territory.
If you are in need of bespoke guidance on any HR issues that have arisen in your workplace from the coronavirus situation then please do not hesitate to contact our Employment Law Experts.
We have helped a number of local businesses with their furlough process and redundancies, along with assisting clients get their processes, policies and handbooks up-to-date with the ‘new normal’ working processes.
Call our switchboard on 01256 844888, email email@example.com or speak to our online chat assistant.
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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
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