Businesses and their employees across the UK are experiencing immense challenges both in their working and personal lives following the outbreak of COVID-19. Interim findings of a Working From Home Wellbeing survey just published by the Institute for Employment Studies has demonstrated the negative impact of the lockdown on employees’ physical and mental health.
Employers have had to devise rapid contingency plans to overcome their operational difficulties and deal with immediate cash flow problems, as well as taking steps to protect their employees’ physical health and safety in line with government guidance.
While the priority has inevitably been to tackle immediate business risks, employers should also be mindful of the risks to employees’ mental health. The pandemic is temporary, but the influence on an individual’s state of mind may last a lot longer than the illness itself, even after life returns to something approaching normality. Mental health issues are a regular feature of employment tribunal claims; further down the line we are likely to see it raised as part of unfair dismissal and discrimination claims if employees do not receive sufficient support for their mental health during this health crisis.
Many businesses will have employees who are working from home while also attempting to care for and home-school their children. In addition to the stress of trying to balance the multiple demands on their time, the change in working location and lack of direct contact with colleagues can present challenges. For those employees who cannot attend their workplace because they are vulnerable or they have been furloughed, this is likely to exacerbate feelings of isolation.
The move to working from home has really blurred the line between home life and work life, making it harder for many employees to maintain a positive work/life balance. Some basic tips for employees on managing this change are:
- to create a healthy and positive daily routine and stick to it
- setting time and space to do things they enjoy outside of work
- exercise regularly – physical health has a big impact on how people feel emotionally.
We would also suggest that when time and resources permit, HR teams consider the issue of employees’ mental health and wellbeing and develop a short-term mental health action plan to help address the mental challenges that their employees are facing. There are free resources available on the MIND website to assist employers in developing a mental health action plan for their employees. This provides a framework for either the HR team or line managers to follow when speaking to their employees in relation to their mental health, with a more tailored approach for those employees who need more support. Additional resources on how to support employees’ mental health while working during the coronavirus outbreak are available from the Mental Health Foundation, MIND, and GOV.UK.
In the coming weeks and months, maintaining regular communication with employees and considering what extra support they might require is one of the most important steps employers can take to safeguard their employees’ mental health and well-being in the longer term.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at April 2020.