How to support employees’ mental health during lockdown

Published on May 5, 2020 by Camille Brouard
How to support employees’ mental health during lockdown 

If you have questions around employee mental health and wellbeing during lockdown and want to learn more, make sure to watch our webinar on supporting staff mental health and wellbeing during lockdown with inspirational speaker Nick Elston.

Lockdown has been a tricky time for us all – and there is a lot of concern nationally around how it will impact on our mental health.

Its already known that stress and mental health issues are a leading cause of absence for UK employees. In 2019, the CIPD found that mental illness and stress were two of the most common reasons for long-term absence. Employee absences have a knock-on effect on productivity, meaning that mental health management has become a priority for many organisations.

So, how can businesses support their employees’ mental health during the critical time of lockdown? Here’s our guide on how to help everyone weather the storm and ensure the organisation stays as productive as possible during this time.

Accept that productivity will likely take a hit

Mental health and productivity in lockdown

It’s an inescapable concern for employers – that the COVID-19 lockdown is going to cause productivity levels to drop and this will have a negative impact on the organisation. It may be tempting to react to this pre-emptively and take a hard-line approach, but this may only increase the levels of stress your staff are experiencing and contribute to further productivity drops (particularly if staff are needing to take time off for stress exacerbated by the current situation).

Last year we wrote a guide on how to reduce staff stress for better productivity and this is even more relevant now that staff are working remotely. As an overview, here is what the guide suggests and what we suggest specifically for the current situation to help productivity recover and continue during these difficult times:

  • Developing clear job roles and responsibilities: these may have changed or need to change during lockdown. Make sure everyone has clear guidelines on what they’re doing and what is expected of them.
  • Encourage employees to prioritise tasks for more effective time management: particularly if you have furloughed some employees and others are figuring out their workloads. Have priority lists helps everyone understand what to focus on when.
  • Promote training and learning opportunities: This can also be a good option for furloughed staff, who can do activities that aren’t bringing profit to the business, such as training courses.
  • Remind everyone of the importance of taking breaks: especially while they’re working from home! Staff should be encouraged to take their full breaks and separate their workspace from the rest of their home when possible so there’s a clearer line between work and home.
  • Encourage exercise and healthy choicesso, in this case, encouraging people to make the most of the time they can spend exercising outside if they’re not needing to fully isolate. Plus, a healthy diet can do wonders for mental wellbeing.
  • Put your tech to the test – and to rest: this is especially true as staff make the shift to remote working. Check in to make sure everything is working properly, as faulty tech can be a huge source of stress. See our webinar on preparing for remote working to learn more about how to do this from our CTO, Kit Barker.

Provide employees with the information that will help them work remotely

There are plenty of benefits to remote working – for the business and for individual staff – but full-time remote work can take a toll mentally, especially during a time of enforced isolation/social distancing. Some people may thrive in their own company, but others may miss the socialising an office environment provides while working.

It’s a good idea to acknowledge the difficulty of adjusting to a full-time work from home schedule – perhaps via email or a video call – and to give staff tips and recommendations. As a starting point, check out our list of working from home tips for COVID-19 and beyond, which are ideal for employees who are new to working from home or doing so full-time.

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Consider each employee’s individual situation

People’s working situations have changed rapidly due to lockdown and everyone has unique obstacles to consider when it comes to their work-life balance and resulting stress levels. Here are a few examples of how you may need to tailor your mental health support and considerations based on an aspect of an employee’s situation:

Employees who are living alone

Loneliness can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing – and this can be a particularly pressing issue for employees who are living on their own during lockdown. Consider having more regular check-ins with these employees (from their manager or another colleague in a ‘buddy system’) and organising social activities during or after work to keep in touch.

Employees with childcare responsibilities

Juggling their workload with home-schooling and childcare is proving tough on parents during lockdown – their stress levels may be going through the roof! Ask how your workers with children are getting on and perhaps discuss rejigging their responsibilities, or perhaps even their working hours, to help them manage their work-life balance. For more on this, make sure to watch our webinar on supporting staff with childcare during lockdown.

Employees who have been furloughed

Furloughing is a new phenomenon – employees may find the change in their routine jarring, just as with any instance of longer-term leave from work. It’s okay to keep in contact with furloughed employees, especially to check in on their wellbeing, as long as this doesn’t require any work from them that could bring direct financial benefit to the business.

If employees are struggling with the lack of routine, one option is to encourage them to undertake training, which is acceptable as long as it doesn't cause direct financial gains for the business. It’s also acceptable for furloughed employees to attend work social events (virtually, of course) if they want to do so. If you’re finding it difficult to keep up with furlough, check out our recent webinar on navigating furlough as an employer to find out more about the process and what is/isn’t permissible.

Managing sickness absence remotely with myhrtoolkit

You can accurately record any type of absence - including sickness absence due to mental health, as well as coronavirus-related sickness absence and furlough absences - with the use of an absence management system. Myhrtoolkit makes it easier to keep tabs on a variety of absences, with the options to include notes and set up sickness absence trigger points to prompt actions.

Streamline your absence management processes and record all absence data accurately with a robust software system.

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Written by Camille Brouard

Camille is a Senior Marketing Executive for myhrtoolkit who writes on topics including HR technology, workplace culture, leave management, diversity, and mental health at work.

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