Pandemics don’t just cause physical illnesses, they are also synonymous with mental health issues such as panic, anxiety and stress. With one in four people (according to WHO) already suffering from a mental health issue, the ongoing situation we are currently facing with the coronavirus outbreak will only push this figure higher.
This could be as a result of quarantine and isolation, the fear of getting sick – or a loved one falling ill – and the uncertainty and unknown surrounding the current coronavirus outbreak.
The accumulation of all this, along with the daily updates that seem to only bring more bad news, is enough to make even the most positive and mentally stable person start to falter.
As an employer, you have a duty of care towards your employees, especially those that are still working – even if they are doing so remotely – which includes making sure that their mental health is protected during a pandemic like the one we are experiencing now.
Our sister company offers some comprehensive mental health online training courses including Mental Health Awareness, Stress Awareness and Mindfulness. Each course delves further into identifying poor mental health and methods of managing your mental health including that which is stress-related.
These are the ideal courses for you to purchase for your employees at a time like this.
In this blog, we’re looking at some of the biggest causes of mental health issues during a pandemic, and what you can do to support your employees during this challenging time.
Communication Is Crucial
The first thing you should do is inform and reassure your employees as much, and as often, as possible. Communication will play a key role over the next few weeks.
If your employees are working from home, which they should be doing if they’re able to, make sure that you stay in touch with them on a regular basis. Not just to monitor their productivity, but to also let them know that you are available if they need to talk or if they are struggling with anything at all, particularly their mental health.
There are many digital tools available, such as Whatsapp, Skype and Facetime, that enable you to keep in constant contact with your employees. You can even have conference calls to allow for team meetings to continue and bring some semblance of normality into everyone’s lives.
On a larger scale, mass emails to your entire workforce, every few days, will ensure that your staff don’t feel forgotten or disconnected and help ease anxiety – particularly for those who live alone or are in high-risk groups.
Beyond checking in on work progress, you should make sure that all your policies are clear and communicated to your entire team, so they know where they stand on issues such as Dependent Care Leave, Sick Pay and Annual Leave.
If you have any questions about what your policies need to say, given the extreme circumstances we are facing, then our HR Consultants are on hand to provide support and advice.
Give Them A Routine
The best thing to do for everyone’s mental health, is to have some sense of normality where possible. This means sticking to a routine that resembles what a normal day in the office would typically be and you should try to enforce this even from a distance.
Ask your employees to work the same hours that they normally would (although flexibility may need to be given to parents whose children will now be at home all day), encourage them to take regular breaks including their usual 30 minutes – 1 hour for lunch and stress that KPI’s and targets will remain in place, although adjustments will need to be made as a result of the affects of coronavirus on the economy.
Furthermore, you should encourage your employees to get out of the house and stay active, excluding those in self-isolation, whilst adhering to social distancing advice.
It can be easy for those working from home to end up sat behind a laptop for 8 hours a day and then going straight to their kitchen to cook dinner and spending the rest of the evening on the sofa.
Reassure them that they don’t need to be attached to their laptop or phone from 9-5 every working day and that, if they miss a call or don’t respond to an email within a given time because they went for a walk on their lunch break, they won’t be reprimanded.
It is very important that workers get fresh air and exposure to sunlight throughout the day (of course, those self-isolating are excluded in this instance), just as they would if they were travelling to work or popping out of the office for lunch, but they can often feel like there is added pressure to be available every second of their working day. Let them know that toilet breaks, popping to the shop for supplies or stepping into the kitchen to make lunch is allowed as long as they are getting their work done and following social distancing guidelines provided by WHO and the government.
They can even sit in their garden to do their work – if the weather permits.
Focus on the Positives
The news and social media timelines are filled with the latest updates on coronavirus and its implications on the economy and workers.
Being exposed to all this heavy news, day in day out, will have the biggest negative impact on people’s mental health, so you should try to avoid adding to it.
Instead of sending updates on the number of coronavirus cases or the drop in the exchange rate, why not send positive, motivational messages to your employees. Find some uplifting stories that you can share with them or encourage them to think about the good things that may come out of this (for example, they’re not having to commute to work so they can use that extra time to take up a new hobby).
You could even give them a fun task to complete each day (after they have completed their work, or as a break during the day) such as baking a cake, practising meditation, or cleaning out their wardrobe – all the things we tell ourselves we need to do but never get around to doing.
Poor Mental Health Does Entitle Employees To Sick Leave
We are heavily focused on sick leave and SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) as it relates to those who have coronavirus, and rightly so, but we should also discuss what the implications are for those who may not have coronavirus but are suffering from mental health issues as a result of the pandemic.
Those who have pre-existing mental health conditions, such as OCD, may find the current events triggering and fall back into bad mental health which can make going to work – even remotely – very difficult.
As an employer, what can you do to support these employees?
Well, aside from checking in on them regularly, you could also offer them sick leave or annual leave (if they have enough days left) so they can focus on getting their mental health back on track. Mental health is often overlooked because it isn’t a physical illness and often the symptoms can’t be seen by other people; however, it is just as real and dangerous as any other illness and should be treated as such, so just as an employee with the flu might take a few days sick leave to sleep it off and recuperate, you must also give employees with mental health the same guidance.
We’re all in this together, and that’s an important point to make to all your employees. We may feel very alone and isolated over the next few weeks but we’re actually more connected than ever, because every single person around the world is going through this too.
Everyone will have a tough day whether they fall ill with coronavirus or not, so it is crucial that you, as an employer, communicate with your workers, keep them updated and allow them some flexibility to look after their children, loved ones and themselves.
As always, we are here to answer any questions you may have about coronavirus, mental health and everything else that comes with it. Our HR and Health and Safety Consultants are working around the clock to support businesses, so if you do need any advice or help writing up your policies, then call us today on 0845 2626 260 or email us at [email protected]