Updated: Nov 3, 2021
The phrase I have heard a lot this week aside from “Happy New Year” and “Good bye 2020” is “Here we go again”. For many of us, we’re back to juggling our day jobs and home-schooling; sharing computers, desk space and copious packets of biscuits as we “get through each day.”
This time, the figures seem more alarming and, while it’s difficult, I for one am more than willing to lock myself and my family away from everyone else for a while in order to keep safe. In reality this won’t happen as how will we be able to do the weekly shopping for our elderly neighbours or share the kids home baking so I don’t add any more to the festive weight gain?
But, we should spare a thought for those in the UK who can’t do that because their job requires them to go out to work every day. Research from “Finder” suggests that 40% of the UK workforce cannot work from home . Whether they’re in food manufacturing, construction, healthcare, communications, transportation, retail or logistics, they are doing their jobs, risking their health and that of their families, for us.
To provide HR support in companies whose staff are spread over multiple sites is a challenge at any time, but what about in a pandemic? What extra measures should be in place to support these staff as they go out to work every day when the public message is “
Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives”?
You will be very much aware of the Health & Safety requirements concerning PPE, risk assessments, social distancing, interaction with others, etc – these have been in place since last March. In this post, I want to focus on the critical support for the emotional wellbeing of those, 10 months in to this pandemic, who have had to go into the unknown on a daily basis to continue to work.
“Ask” - Find out how everyone is
This may seem a tall order if your company has hundreds or even thousands of employees so make this the responsibility of their line managers or supervisors to check in with their teams and get a full picture of how they are. It’s easy to overlook this, particularly when pausing to have a chat seems almost irresponsible compared to the jobs that they are doing. I can not stress enough how important this is. By doing so, you are more likely to be able to spot early signs of problems or issues and this will mean it’s much easier to address.
Those in essential and key worker roles have worked under immense pressure for almost a year and this could make them more vulnerable to stress or other mental health conditions. Employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and this includes mental health and well-being.
“Train” - Equip managers with the tools and knowledge to support their teams
You may be well versed in health and wellbeing but it’s unlikely every manager within your business shares that capability or even recognises the importance of wellbeing. Make sure your managers understand the symptoms or signs to look out for. These could be in the employee’s behaviour or indicated by a change in their work performance over time, and having a simple list of questions they can ask their teams will help. Ideally, you should train all managers not just to identify signs, but also how to handle the disclosure of a mental health condition. Perhaps the training is one to tackle later and in the meantime, ensure that they have Occupational Health Support on hand where needed.
You can also help them to understand the potential mental health implications of COVID-19 and how they can support their staff to look after themselves. Encourage them to suggest activities that encourage physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing, as to have a culture where it’s not only ok to talk about mental health, but actively encouraged.
“Review” - Look at workloads and schedules
A major pressure will be workload – particularly if employees are also juggling childcare or caring responsibilities. It’s crucial that you review every member of staff’s workload and, where possible, update objectives and tasks to reflect the current circumstances.
You may have implemented a range of different working patterns and hours to provide flexibility for employees to manage their family commitments. How is everyone coping with the changed timetable?
“Praise” - Make the time for recognition and acknowledgement
For working under such difficult circumstances for so long, saying “thank you” doesn’t quite feel enough but that doesn’t mean your staff won’t want to hear it. Make sure you are showing them frequently how grateful you and the senior team are for their efforts and commitment. And perhaps pledge to reward them accordingly once the pandemic is over.
“Share” - Make use of the external resources available
As always, there is a wealth of valuable information online to help you and your employees, and if you need further help, we’re here too.
· CIPD guide to mental health in the workplace during COVID-19
· Crisis Text Line - If you’re experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support. You can text “Shout” to 85258 for free, confidential support, 24/7 via text
· Side by Side is a supportive online community where you can be yourself in a safe place to listen, share and be heard.
· ACAS advice for employers and employees
· MIND guide to going into work during coronavirus
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