Every business relies on having healthy and productive employees and responsible employers know that to attract and retain committed employees they must look after the physical and mental wellbeing of their people.
Since the Coronavirus outbreak, both employers and employees have had to adapt their working styles in ways that were unimaginable just a few weeks ago and the strain this can put on an individual’s mental health should not be underestimated.
Here we explore some of the advice and support available to employees and managers to help navigate some of these stresses in a way that is compassionate and preserves mental wellbeing so much as possible during this challenging time.
Communication with employees is imperative. However, the is a huge amount of information for everyone to absorb and it may confusing, overwhelming with employees are unsure of what to trust.
Broadly employees can be divided into three groups currently: home workers, furloughed workers and key workers/those still working, as an employer or leader you may wish to consider how best to communicate with these different groups and what approach you want to take to safeguarding mental health.
Some questions to consider:
Homeworkers may now be set up with the technology to do their jobs away from the office, have you thought about how you will keep in touch for team meetings and the correct frequency and timing of those for your business and employees?
Have you thought about or put in time for separate health and wellbeing one-to-ones in addition to work-flow or status meetings?
Do you have a mental health plan that takes into consideration how you are meeting the needs of different employee groups e.g. parents with children at home, carers, vulnerable employees, those with existing metal health conditions? (see further resources below)
How will you communicate and stay in touch with furloughed employees?
Are you effectively communicating the measures you are taking to safeguard employees who are still working ? How will you know if you’re not?
Do employees who are continuing to work have a channel to communicate their stress and worries about that to their manager or supervisor?
For any wellbeing initiative to work, it must be led by the very top of the organisation and during a crisis, the way that senior leaders interact with employees really comes into focus.
Time and again, the advice is: you do not have to be a mental health specialist, but you do need to be a compassionate leader.
For example, asking employees how they are, giving them time to answer and actively listening and responding in a human way to their response - sharing your own struggles with balancing homeworking and childcare for example - can make a huge difference to your interactions, the perception of you as a leader and have a positive impact on your employees or colleague’s mental wellbeing.
You may want to ask your managers and employees to complete a Wellbeing Action Plan (WAP) - everyone can complete a WAP, you don't need to have a mental health problem in order to feel the benefits. It just means that you already have practical steps in place to ensure you are supported when you aren't feeling great or, if you are an employer, knowing how best to support someone having a hard time.
Mental health charity MIND, which has a dedicated workplace wellbeing programme, has created two excellent guides:
Guide for line managers is for managers or supervisors who are interested in introducing WAPs to their team members
Guide for employees is for any employee who would like to try WAP for themselves and/or introduce the idea to their manager or supervisor
It’s a difficult and busy time for everybody, so it’s important to understand how peers can support each other. Putting in place digital peer support networks (via Skype or Zooom), utilising mental health champions or mental health first aiders if you have them will be invaluable in making sure that everyone takes a role in looking after each other.
There are also external peer support networks, including MIND’s Elefriends which is a supportive online community and a safe place to listen, share and be heard.
City Mental Health Alliance's Managing Remote Teams In Challenging Times
Charlie Waller Memorial Trust's Coronavirus and mental health, including how to talk to children about Coronavirus