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Managing Mental Health during Lockdown for HR and Managers: #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

This year, mental health awareness week (18 to 22 May 2020) has fallen within an uncertain economic time. Since the lockdown measures started on 23 March 2020 (and perhaps before that for those who more cautiously chose to shield) our ideas of “working” during the pandemic have changed dramatically.

As an HR adviser or a manager, your attention is likely to be moving away from short term “business continuity” planning, to forming medium or long terms plans about how to bring employees back to work safely. This will no doubt involve risk assessments and adjustments to their ways of working.

Managing any sort of change in the workplace, whether culturally or physically, involves careful planning, messaging and a strategy to underpin the change. Covid-19 has presented many obstacles and challenges to achieving this. But, employees still expect HR and their employers to protect their rights and mental health.

You may have employees who suffered with their mental health prior to lockdown and those whose mental health may have deteriorated during this time, who also need your support. Making sure that your employees feel looked after, engaged with and listed to will be of paramount importance to maintaining a successful business.

Here are 5 ways to manage your employees’ mental health during the pandemic:

1. Ensure that your business leaders communicate effectively

Individuals who have been used to working within a team may now be working on their own and employees may feel isolated or concerned about their job security. Many businesses have created internal taskforces to deal with company-wide messaging on how the business will deal with coronavirus related issues. This can help to minimise gossip and anxiety.

Communications should be regular and include a mix of business and wellbeing updates. Remember that your employees’ emotional wellbeing has a bearing on their productivity. Effective communication is a two way street. Some companies have created covid-19 email addresses or wellbeing email addresses that are actively managed by HR to give employees a “safe space” to raise concerns about their work or wellbeing.

2. Remind employees what benefits and support are available to them

This is a challenging time for all of us – and whether we are at work or not many employers provide support, such as Employee Assistance Programmes, and wider benefits. Make sure that benefits are advertised well and circulate specific resources relating to the outbreak that would be useful for staff. Bath Mind have lots of useful hints and tips on their website.

Employees should also know where to go and who they can talk to internally. If you have mental health champions, or mental health first aiders, make sure they have the latest information.

3. Use technology and encourage colleagues to continue to hold social gatherings through work

Many employees will miss the social aspects of work. Encourage people to still hold informal conversations if they are working virtually through your technology. You may have an instant messenger or intranet or MS Teams – but text messages and calls work as well.  Try video call lunches and coffee chats and virtual birthday celebrations. This will help to maintain the team dynamic and provide some respite from work.

4. Encourage employees to take annual leave

Some employees may want to save their annual leave, in the hope that they can use it in the way they would have done prior to lockdown. However it is still important to set boundaries between work and downtime and this means regularly taking annual leave. Remind employees of the benefits of taking regular breaks so that they can rest and re-energise. Periods of recovery during annual leave are essential to our wellbeing. Employees who take regular holidays are likely to be more motivated about their work and perform more effectively.

5. Show your employees that you are committed to supporting their wellbeing

Businesses cannot thrive without a committed and productive workforce. It goes without saying that mental ill health costs an employer both talent and money. According to the Work Foundation the total annual cost to employers of managing mental ill health is around £70 billion. Staff with positive mental health are likely to work productively, interact well with colleagues, adapt to changes in the workplace and importantly they will want to continue working for you.

Employers can show commitment to staff by speaking about mental health and how to tackle the stigma. A great way to do this is to consider bringing external speakers, such as Bath Mind or lawyers to solidify that message.

If you would like to learn more about the ways in which you can support your employee’s mental health at work, join our webinar on Thursday 21 May. Click here to book your place.

Brought to you by Bath Mind chair and HR and Employment lawyer, Pip Galland. 

Posted on: 20th May 2020

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