We are concerned about the mental wellbeing of our staff during this third national lockdown. Are there any steps we could take to offer further support them through this difficult period?
It is without doubt that everyone is feeling the strain of the further restrictions imposed by the UK government. The restrictions will affect everyone differently, and it Is important that employers recognise the varying difficulties its employees are facing, and create a supportive environment.
There are several things employers could consider in order to support its workforce.
Don’t pretend everything is normal – it is not!
The pandemic is anything but normal! As much as you may want to reassure your staff about job security by stating it is business as usual, the pressures facing your workforce are not the normal pressures experienced.
Reassure your staff that it is ok if they have a child in the background carrying out their home schooling, or if they find some days more of a struggle than others. Working from home for many is not just a change of scenery.
It comes with additional issues such as isolation and family pressures (home schooling!). Make sure these are recognised and keep communication channels open with staff. This will ensure individuals feel they can express any concerns and pressures they are experiencing, in turn allowing you to find solutions that suit both the business and the individual.
Offering flexibility – this can be in many different ways!
One such step in recognising additional pressures may be to offer flexibility in working practices. This could take many forms including flexible working hour or temporarily amending roles to suit individuals varying pressures.
Parents home schooling their children will face additional pressures during school hours, but may be able to work flexibly in the morning or evening. In addition, to alleviate pressure, individuals with fewer demands at home could temporarily take on some additional duties (although this should be managed carefully).
Winter lockdown is different to summer lockdown. Individuals may also wish to make use of flexible working hours in order to ensure they can enjoy exercise in the daylight!
It may not always be possible for people to exercise in a lunch break, and you therefore may wish to allow people to manage their day to ensure each individual can do what they need to alleviate their stress at this difficult time.
Offering additional leave
For some individuals, flexibility may not be sufficient. For parents of young children, simply expressing that they can work their hours when they wish may lead to other problems such as exhaustion.
In some situations you may wish to offer additional unpaid leave to parents, or to allow them to use annual leave.
Larger organisations may also be able to offer limited further paid leave to recognise the pressures faced by families during the current pandemic.
Where none of the above offer a workable solution, you may wish to offer being placed on furlough leave to certain members of staff.
The guidance is now completely clear that parents facing caring or homes schooling demands can be furloughed. You are not legally obliged to grant furlough in this situation, but by offering support where possible during the peak of the pressures being faced, it may potentially prevent long term mental health issues amongst your workforce.
Some employers are fearful of requesting this as an option, in case it puts them at the top of the pile if a redundancy situation arises.
You should reassure staff that this is not the case, and that if granted, it is simply to alleviate their stress as they are a valued member of staff.
Wellbeing ideas and resources
Wellbeing information and sources can be emailed to all employees and placed on the organisation’s intranet (if you have one).
These can range from lists of online exercise sources, links to your organisations counselling service (if offered), mental health charity contact details, and ideas as to how employees can organise their work day that they take breaks and are set up properly at their home workspace.
The key is to keep communication open with your workforce. These are unusual times that we will likely not face again in our lifetimes. The different support organisations can offer will depend on their size and resources, but these ideas will provide some ideas as to the various options available.
For further information, contact Tessa Robinson, employment law specialist, on 01227 763939.