Advice and tips for supporting your employees' mental wellbeing during Coronavirus (COVID 19).
For those who have been able to switch to remote working, you’re now approaching week 3 and are firmly in the normalising stage. It’s great that we don’t miss our daily commute anymore but it’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day. Yes, we are remaining positive about staying safe at home, but global lockdown measures and never-ending news bites may be starting to take their toll.
Let’s be honest - the situation is unknown. Your employees who are also dealing with a long-term illness or are caring for a loved one with an illness will need more support than normal.
We’re no experts when it comes to mental health, but we do understand how important it is for our clients to maintain this as part of an holistic approach to their overall wellbeing.
Worries are taking hold
Employers have a duty of care to the wellbeing of their employees, even if they are working remotely. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has recently published results from their ‘Working at Home Wellbeing Survey’ and found that already, remote employees are feeling the strain and impact with:
Boosting mental wellbeing
Starting to feel a bit meh, or lonely? Your team will be feeling it to varying degrees but probably more so your employees who are used to caring for loved ones who they are now social distancing from. This monumental change in how interaction occurs will continue for a while and you need to be able to keep morale high and feelings of isolation low.
As the virus gains momentum around the globe, so too do mental health concerns, stress and anxieties.
We’ve said it before but communication really will be key to combating these feelings, and needs to consist of more than a company/team update or a task list. You could trial a colleague buddy support system. Everyone is assigned a teammate (perhaps someone they don’t usually work with) to have a virtual coffee once a week and chat about how they’re coping with work and home. Not only will this establish and build rapport within the organisation, but it will provide dedicated time to socialise during the working day and a chance to chat through concerns and struggles. Just be cautious: if someone is undergoing treatment - for instance chemotherapy - then they may not want certain people to know this information.
This small act will help reduce feelings of loneliness, build upon your company culture and provide respite from being logged on at home. Virtual conversations will also help your vulnerable employees who are shielding at home as they are unable to leave their home due to risk infection. If this is the case, enquire as to whether they need help in getting supplies to them. You or another teammate who lives nearby could offer to drop some stuff off for them.
Don’t underestimate the collective power generated by your employees pulling together during these times.
How about the practicality of keeping in touch?
Treatment plans, therapies and support groups will either not be happening, be less frequent or be occurring in a different format (most likely digital or via telephone).
Do they have the digital skills to deal with these new ways of communicating and accessing virtual appointments? We’re not being patronising but if your team is used to sitting in a meeting room and having face-to-face contact, then they may need some additional help to get up and running. Does their microphone and camera work? Let them know if it’s ok for them to use their work laptop to host a call with their clinician. Do they know how to set their Skype status to ‘do not disturb’ or log out of Outlook so no one interrupts them? Now that the dust of remote working has settled, you can schedule tests amongst the team to check devices are working optimally. If they require IT support, who should they contact, and will it be prioritised?
If you’ve got an intranet or other internal comms platform (maybe Teams for example), then encourage people to ask questions and share tips and solutions. You could also keep atop of how your team is feeling by distributing stress surveys on a regular basis to ensure you’re able to provide relevant and appropriate preventative and supportive solutions.
If you don’t already have mental health resources you could signpost to, then now is the time to be proactive in your support. Mediation apps, online fitness classes, PE lessons for children, and national mental or emotional health support lines are a few initiatives you could look into.
How can you keep productivity high?
Everyone reacts to things differently and on a different time scale.
Increasing levels of stress and anxiety will impact productivity, morale, sickness and engagement. Fundamentally, ensuring vulnerable employees feel they are supported will boost all of these factors.
Offer adjustments to working hours if employees need to fit appointments, childcare, teaching and physical exercise into their day. Allowing people to work at times that suit their home constraints and wellbeing state will help sustain their productivity and hopefully give it a boost.
There is a growing pressure on social media to be posting about how much more productive you’re being, what new skills you’re learning or how much running you’re doing in your daily outside allowance. This is all great – if they want to or can do this. For those who are going through adjustments to treatment, have mental wellbeing concerns or who are now unable to provide care, simply getting up and getting through the day and their task list will be an accomplishment – and a great one at that.
The influx of news and change will be creating mounting pressure on mental wellbeing. Encourage them to only take on as much as they can cope with – work-wise and personally. Check if their workload is ok. Are they managing their time and diary well? It’s important that a daily routine is maintained. Are they taking note of their tasks and blocking out times in their calendar where they can work on this and people don’t add them to meetings which clash?
Urge them to block out times for their personal appointments so the rest of the team know not to add them to anything – they don’t need to give the time slot a title; just name it ‘private’. Make sure that everyone knows they can do this because you may not be aware of everyone who is dealing with a long-term illness or who usually offers support for someone else.
It's a collective effort...
The forthcoming weeks and months will be a time of collaboration, communication and innovation in the way of sustaining how workflows, colleague rapport and relationships, engagement levels and wellbeing continue to thrive and survive.
If you feel like mental wellbeing support is becoming out of your depth, then there are a range of resources and material which are being published on a regular basis.
A few which our specialist nurses have found useful (and reliable) include:
- Government’s steps to help protect mental health
- MIND Charity
- NHS staying at home tips
- NHS advice
- Government advice
- Coping with fear of recurrence
- Social distancing: tips for keeping busy during the coronavirus outbreak
- Pinterest: stay safe, stay inspired
Lead with compassion and empathy and remember to look after yourself as well.
Also, encourage your teams to resist bingeing on pandemic documentaries before bed.