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World Mental Health Day 2020: How Has Covid-19 Affected Workers in the UK?

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘mental health for all’, however, in light of the recent and current events seen across the world, we wanted to put our focus on how Covid-19 has affected workers in the UK given our ways of working have changed so much.

The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic has led to a massive change in all manner of areas, vast uncertainty and new challenges for a large proportion of the population.

Working from Home

According to a study completed by finder.com, as of 28th September 2020, 60% of the UK’s adult population is currently working from home due to Covid-19. Working remotely can bring both benefits and challenges and while it’s nice to have greater flexibility; moving less, snacking more and blurring the lines between home and work life can negatively impact an employee’s mental health.

The same study from finder.com found that 1 in 5 adults working from home struggle with loneliness. Although employee interaction is there through the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings, the social aspect of the working environment is non-existent. This disconnectivity from co-workers and the rest of the world may leave employees feeling lonely and isolated. When experienced over long periods, these feelings are associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety.

While it’s great that workers are saving time by no longer commuting, with the average adult gaining 5 hours per week by working from home, employees mustn’t be pressured into starting early and finishing late, rather than taking this time for themselves.

Instead, encourage your staff to create a routine and stick to a schedule. This includes taking frequent screen breaks (as they would in the office for getting a drink or simply moving to speak to a colleague) and moving away from their workspace to take lunch.

To improve their work-life balance, ensuring that your workforce has an adequate workspace while at home is critical. This doesn’t have to be a custom-built home office but working from a bedroom or living room can severely affect your employee’s ability to switch off when finishing for the day as a result of working in their relaxation spaces.

Lastly, with the winter months fast approaching, encouraging workers to move their desks closer to a window where possible maximises the availability of natural light. This is key to our happiness, boosting vitamin D and serotonin levels.

How Can You Help Your Remote Workers?

  1. Ensure frequent communication, both socially and professionally to reduce feelings of social isolation
  2. Thank them for their hard work and encourage them to take their mornings and evenings as a time for themselves
  3. Create and stick to a schedule, including regular screen breaks
  4. Offer advice on creating a suitable space to work to reduce the number of people working in their leisure areas
  5. Encourage workers to move their desks near a window for a vitamin D and serotonin boost

Staff on Furlough

An article shared by Sky News on 20th August 2020 shows that 12% of the UK workforce are still on furlough, with 9.6 million employees having been placed on this temporary leave since the scheme began in March, according to Gov.uk. While this may have initially been enjoyable for many workers, those who have been on furlough since March may be experiencing several daily struggles.

As human beings, we are creatures of habit and are most productive and content when our lives have a rhythm. Employees on furlough may now feel that their life lacks structure and could be struggling to find purpose and motivation. As a result, your staff may be experiencing decreased levels of self-esteem, feelings of social isolation and loneliness, financial concerns due to reduced pay and anxiety around returning to work after spending so much time at home. Having too much time to ponder the situation, as many on furlough will, can enhance emotions and trigger new mental health problems or make existing problems worse.

Many furloughed staff may feel ‘out of sight, out of mind’ if communication from their employer isn’t there. Keep in touch with your employees regularly providing updates on a likely return date to ease any anxiety they may be feeling. You should also contact them to check-in and see how they are doing. This can help to reduce feelings of social isolation and builds stronger relationships by showing staff that you care about their wellbeing.

You may be able to help your staff to create a routine, ensuring that they have (non-work related) tasks and hobbies to keep themselves busy from day to day. Why not encourage your furloughed staff to take part in a training course in a topic of their interest? A furloughed employee can take part in training as long as it does not provide services to or generate revenue for or on behalf of your organisation. Open University and Shaw Academy, amongst other providers, are currently offering several free courses to help with peoples personal and professional development.

Finally, you should approach your staff to ensure that they are taking care of themselves during this difficult time. This includes making sure that they are engaging in physical activity, eating healthily the majority of the time, and watching their alcohol intake with official guidelines advising that individuals should maintain alcohol-free days, at least twice a week. Letting our physical health slip can lead to us feeling sluggish and unmotivated, further contributing to the mental health effects potentially triggered by furlough and these ever-changing, challenging times.

Lisette Stribling, Emotional Support Worker and Health Assessor at Healthy Performance says “We have been forced to explore painful depths we otherwise wouldn’t have chosen to experience, but there is an aspect of self-renewal in the process. Many have tuned into a deeper sense of their personal lives such as realising how little they slept pre-lockdown, or how much that stressful commute was bothering them and there is good that can come of this.”

How Can You Help Your Furloughed Employees?

  1. Provide regular contact, offering company updates, a potential return to work date, wellbeing checks and general chit-chat to reduce feelings of ‘out of sight, out of mind’
  2. Encourage staff to have a daily routine to provide their days with some structure
  3. Suggest that staff take advantage of free, non-work related training courses. This will enhance their personal development, allow them to get engrossed in an area of their interest while also giving that feeling of having work to do
  4. Check that they aren’t letting their physical health slip as this can further contribute to mental health problems. Encourage physical activity, a balanced diet and sticking to alcohol guidelines

 Social Isolation and Job Security

As of 18th June 2020, more than two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) report feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect Covid-19 is having on their life. Many of us have experienced changes in our social experiences and although physical distancing is essential in slowing the spread of the virus, it can also lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Social connection is crucial for our mental health and some of the risks associated with loneliness and isolation include depression, anxiety and in some cases, suicide. Those who live alone, are single or divorced are at a higher risk of experiencing loneliness.

Lisette adds “We know that isolation causes amplification. Whatever coping tools people were using before, they will lean into. If people get stuck in defence mechanisms such as fight, flight, freeze, that manifest as anxiety and or depression, all of their long-term projects in the body get put on hold (digestion, immunity, hormone balance) as the organism deals with the unfolding threat.”

However, during these times there is another area of uncertainty for many UK workers. Job security. With more than 7% of the UK’s workforce facing potential unemployment by the end of the year, it’s no surprise that this is a worry to many employees.

Experts say that with a job loss, individuals can experience the same feelings and stresses that you would if you were seriously injured, going through a divorce or mourning the loss of a loved one. Most would agree that having a job provides structure, job satisfaction and self-fulfilment as well as the opportunity to provide for ourselves and our families. Becoming unemployed is likely to provoke deep feelings of stress, as well as depression, anxiety and fear.

For anyone at risk of redundancy or has been made redundant due to Covid-19, the most important thing to remember is do not take it personally. Many factors are outside of your control and you should be reassured that it is not about your work or your productivity, but whether it is financially viable for your role to be retained.

So, as an employer, how can you help to reduce these feelings of anxiety and uncertainty?

  1. Be transparent. By providing your staff with regular, honest updates, they will have a clearer understanding of whether they are likely to be returning to work. Most should be able to gauge whether they should begin looking for employment opportunities elsewhere and it’s only fair as an employer not to string your staff along
  2. Encourage team video-calls, allowing time for catch-ups between staff as well as time for work. This will keep relationships between your employees strong and reduce feelings of loneliness. If you have a furloughed member of staff who lives alone, this interaction could be the highlight of their week
  3. If you are having to make redundancies, do it kindly and fairly. This is a difficult time for many and being made redundant could leave them in a bad position financially. Ensure that they receive the correct redundancy pay and point them in the direction of where they can find financial support if needed.

The Importance of Communicating with Your Staff

It is becoming more widely known that mental health in the workplace is an important issue. Many companies have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that can help employees with their mental health but with the Covid-19 pandemic changing all our lives, employee mental health is at the forefront of office problems.

Some of the impacts of mental health issues can carry over into the workplace and businesses should understand how to approach and help their employees. Mental health can be a highly sensitive topic, so make sure you approach any discussion with compassion and care. Mental health discussions should be treated and cared for in the same manner as physical health discussions.

Employers need to be prepared to speak with employees about their needs, including mental health situations. While a manager or HR department should never take the role of a therapist, they can – and should – ask how people are doing. This sets the foundations for building strong relationships and could lead to your employees approaching you for advice in the future because you have shown that you care.

“Connection to others is vital. The warmth and encouragement of valued colleagues, family and friends is an important part of our human potential. Social injustices are being talked about on mainstream platforms in a way they were not before, and we can start to feel and form these bonds of inner connectedness to others and that will go huge steps towards mental health on a local and global scale. We can start to dismantle the structures that are no longer serving us” says Lisette.

As a business, you should let your employees know that you understand that this is a difficult time, and that help is available. Discuss the support that the company can provide such as EAPs, time off for mental health days and work flexibility and encourage your staff to make use of these opportunities.

There is, unfortunately, still a stigma around mental health and the reason for this is that many people don’t understand what it is, or how to deal with it. This is especially true when it comes to the workplace. The key to reducing and getting rid of this stigma is to educate, educate and educate.

Once workplaces have returned to normal (or ‘new normal’) after Covid-19, you could consider bringing in a trained professional who can carry out mental health workshops, talk about recognising the signs and give advice on how you can help those around you.

Pascal® by Healthy Performance

Pascal® is an innovative online mental health support platform that allows you and your employees to measure home and work pressure and provides your employees with more support surrounding mental health.

The assessment, which takes no longer than 10 minutes to complete, gauges how much stress employees are feeling in different areas of their personal and professional lives including finances, current life events, work demands, job security and relationships with colleagues and/or line managers.

Upon completion, employees receive a confidential report with recommendations and links to existing support pathways as well as access to our wellbeing resource library. Your company report will identify hotspots and trends to allow you to focus your mental health strategy in the areas most relevant to your employees.

Thames Water uses Pascal® to support their employees and Aimee Cain, Occupational Health and Wellbeing Manager at Thames Water says “Pascal® is the first online platform that we’ve seen that allows us to promote mental health linking in our internal resources, referral pathways and list of Mental Health First Aiders. Our Company Report really helps us to focus on areas of the business that may require more support.”

To find out more about how Healthy Performance can support you in supporting your staff’s mental health and wellbeing, please get in touch via our online contact form. Alternatively, you can call our team on 0800 170 1777.

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