As we enter 2021 businesses in the UK are continuing to face challenging external pressures, with a new lockdown having an impact on business income, and with many having to adapt to changes as a result of Brexit.
Whilst businesses will clearly be pre-occupied with facing these external challenges, it is also important to focus on the substantial impact that a new, strict and likely prolonged lockdown will have on our employee’s mental well-being. A business functions best when happy, motivated and engaged people are working at its heart, so business leaders should ask: “are we doing enough to help our people through these challenging times?”
Managing people remotely can be demanding. Homeworking can cause mental stress, video call fatigue, burnout and a craving for ‘real’ human interaction. In more normal times, we’d often debate how to get a healthy life/work balance and now with life and work merged into one this has become much more difficult, and many are feeling the strain. Moreover, as individuals have been forced to confront the reality of a third national lockdown and the rapid spread a new Covid variant, employees’ wellbeing will have undoubtedly been under further duress as we entered the New Year.
Tim Boag, Aldermore’s group managing director, business finance, commented: “As businesses across the UK have battled against the challenges of Covid-19, many owners of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) saw their working hours sharply increase. Our research has found that one in five (21%) SME owners are working an additional three hours on average per day to manage the impact of the pandemic on their business1. This figure varied depending on region, with 13% of SME directors in the North East working a staggering five extra hours or more each day, the highest percentage of any UK area.”
Feelings of anxiety and stress have increased in the UK. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that since the Covid-19 outbreak mental illness has become, on average nearly 10% worse for those that have previously suffering from mental health issues, like depression and social anxiety, especially for women and young people2.
Louise Rogerson, Aldermore’s people director, said: “Simply working longer hours on its own can damage mental health and adding an uneven work/life balance can impact performance, lead to fatigue and cause depression. As the country enters lockdown 3.0, it is vital employers know how to support their workers’ wellbeing, as well as their own.”
Aldermore have compiled a list of top tips for helping employers, especially those without significant HR support, to manage both their own and employees stress and anxiety during this time:
- Establishing clear business hours and ensure time for self-care – While many are struggling with longer working hours, it is important to try and rectify this by establishing clear business hours. Equally as important is ensuring time for self-care, dedicating time to activities encouraging relaxation e.g. hobbies, reading a book, watching a film etc.
- Identify pain points – Look to identify the aspects of work which cause the greatest stress and anxiety and share the burden with a colleague or work together to find a potential solution. It is also important to get back in touch with the aspects of your work that feed your passions.
- Make time for exercise – Taking some time each day to exercise is another way to relieve our stress and step away from work momentarily. Just a 15-minute walk has been shown to lower cortisol levels.
- Establish a sleep routine – We all know that a good night’s sleep can set you up for the day, but this does not happen by accident, it is often the result of good sleep hygiene. Create a structured sleep routine. Go to bed and get up every day at the same time, even at weekends.
- Know when to ask for help – Look for ways to build a personal network that will help support you during this difficult time. Don’t be afraid to ask friends or colleagues for help. Consider talking to a business mentor or coach about ways to improve your work-life balance. Many virtual support groups have sprung up over the course of the past few months, and organisations like ACAS and the CIPD have materials freely available.
To support SME directors in managing their mental health and wellbeing, Aldermore has also launched its ‘Small But Mighty Business Mental Health Guide’.
1 Research conducted by Opinium Research between 3 -13 July with a nationally representative sample size of 1,006 senior decision makers in SME businesses.