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Make them smile - protecting your employees' mental health

Written by Clive Rich on Wednesday, 06 January 2021. Posted in Commercial law, Legal

Last year, scientists concluded that the year 536AD was the worst time to be alive.

Make them smile - protecting your employees' mental health

Last year, scientists concluded that the year 536AD was the worst time to be alive.

That year, a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere, plunging it into cold and virtual darkness for 18 months. Crops failed and populations starved. A few years later in 541, the plague of Justinian began, killing an estimated 30 to 50 million people-about half the world's population at that time-as it spread across Asia, North Africa, Arabia, and Europe.

These two disasters plunged Europe into an economic stagnation that lasted over 100 years.

After 100 relatively pandemic free years, this past year has seen many people left with high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression following the lockdowns and general restrictions. Everyone has had to balance home schooling and new ways of working. Many had to cope with losing their jobs or being sick with the virus themselves. As a result, mental health issues, uncertainty and economic distress are all on the rise.

Since the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic:

  • 75% of people say they feel more socially isolated
  • 67% of people report higher stress
  • 57% are feeling greater anxiety
  • 53% say they feel more emotionally exhausted

Findings from a global study of over 2,700 employees across more than 10 industries undertaken by Qualtrics and SAP during March and April 2020.

As an employer, you have a duty of care under health and safety legislation to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of your staff. Not only does protecting your employees' mental health ensure you are compliant with health and safety regulations, an extensive 2019 study by Oxford University said Business School found a conclusive link between happiness and productivity.

Here are some tips on protecting your employees’ mental health and reasonable adjustments you can action to offer support during this time of uncertainty and fear. 

"But what about me?" you may ask. The very act of thinking of others and being kind provides a significant boost to mental health in itself. Evidence shows that the more secure and calm your workforce is, the more innovative and productive they will be, ensuring your business has a chance to prosper, grow and meet targets, even in difficult times.

Opening the lines of communication

Almost 40% of employees said their employer has not asked them how they are or managing since the pandemic began. Of this group, 38% are more likely to say their mental health has declined since the outbreak of the pandemic. 

The easiest first step is to engage with your employee and ask, "are you okay?" 

Checking in on your employee's wellbeing and maintaining regular communication is essential. A healthy workplace with open lines of communication eases anxiety, promotes a positive working environment and supports wellbeing.

Keep people talking and walking

Isolation, especially for those that live alone, can be debilitating for homeworkers or those who have to work in a mostly empty office. Encourage employees to pick up the phone and talk instead of relying on email, the tone of which can easily be misconstrued. 

Also, encourage everyone, whether at home or in the workplace premises to take regular breaks and get out for some fresh air during their lunch hour. Recent evidence is mounting on the importance of nature with regards to mental health, especially in today's world where we spend so much time on screens and digital devices. 

Make it ‘No meeting Wednesday’ to give staff the time to work without interruptions.

Ensure work/life boundaries are in place for home workers

Overwork is a significant cause of stress. It is vital that employees who remote work feel confident that they are not expected to respond to emails and instant messages out of hours. Some companies have adopted an email footer stating, "Our company supports agile working, so please don't feel you need to respond to this email outside your normal working hours."

Be aware of Zoom Fatigue which makes individuals tired, worried, or burned out from overusing virtual platforms of communication. 

Provide the right tools

Ensure that employees working remotely have access to all the resources required to do their job to the best of their ability. 

Maybe provide an employee assistance programme for your staff to speak with a trained professional. This could be to discuss work related stress, mental health issue, physical health, or how to engage in a positive mental health training.

Be transparent and open regarding the future of the business

Continue to keep the lines of communication between management and employees open. Most people are worried about job security and uncertainty is one of the primary stress triggers. If the organisation is doing well, share this with your workforce, so employees can feel safe. If things aren't looking optimistic, try and allow staff to become part of the solution with identifying and implementing expanding revenue streams. 

When employees feel that they have control over their lives, their stress levels reduce and happiness increases, leading to greater creativity.

To find out more about protecting your employees' mental health, visit the Acas information page.

About the Author

Clive Rich

Clive Rich

Clive Rich is the CEO and Founder of LawBite, a virtual legal platform that helps SMEs get easier access to expert legal advice that is clearer and more affordable. Clive is a former barrister and expert negotiator.

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