COVID-19 has led to a dramatic change in our lives and working practices, with uncertainty and new challenges for employers in particular.
Alongside physical health measures, employers are keen to support employee mental health and wellbeing through the crisis. Whether your team is in furlough, working from home or in hibernation, here are some tips to make sure you keep them fighting fit and ready to get the business back on its feet after lockdown.
1. Prepare for employee mental health disclosures
Dramatic upheaval to lives and working patterns might mean your employees need to share mental health problems they’ve previously not disclosed at work. In addition to anxieties about health, finance and the future in general, being in lockdown might be especially difficult for people with pre-existing mental health problems such as depression or trauma.
2. Make the business more open to mental health
If you haven’t had time until now, an extended lockdown period might be a good time to invest in your business’ mental health fitness. If you have HR officers or line managers, appoint a couple of mental health champions or Mental Health First Aiders – volunteers who can be approached confidentially by those with depression, anxiety, stress and other conditions. First aiders are not counsellors, psychologists or experts, just visible first responders who can signpost services and further support.
3. Support employees with a mental action plan
While a sensitive and respectful response to any disclosures from staff is the first important step, you might also need to make practical adjustments to help staff members manage their wellbeing. Mental health charity Mind has created a useful template to guide employers and line managers through creating a Wellness Action Plan. This is a great way for employers to show support, share responsibility for wellbeing and agree practical steps that might help.
4. Invest now for long-term resilience
If your business is small, or if you have a reduced workforce on furlough, you can plan mental health resources for when you’re back up and running. Line managers will know their teams better than anyone and are ideally placed to spot the early warning signs that someone is struggling, even with a dispersed team: increased use of negative words, a change in tone of voice or personality, people opting out of meetings or social events, significant changes in a team member’s work output. Here’s more guidance on what to watch out for with remote working employee mental health.
5. Set up a reassuring communication plan
You’ve probably already kicked some new communication streams off without thinking, but now we’re a few weeks into lockdown, it’s worth reviewing. As people move out of shock, settle into new routines or get to grips with being on furlough, their communication needs might change. Decide which groups of staff you need to communicate with, how often, what channel you’re going to use and what your key messages are. The regularity and consistency of your communications can give staff structure and routine.
6. Use your intuition and knowledge of staff
You know your workforce better than anyone so let your intuition guide your communication choices and reinforce employee mental health. For example, socially-motivated extroverts choose a visual format like Skype or FaceTime rather than phone calls. Introverts in your team might prefer online chat. With line managers you might do a morning 15-minute phone call or video briefing to set priorities. For furloughed staff this might be a weekly Zoom meeting and a weekly email for official updates.
7. Make yourself available to people
This is the lockdown equivalent of your “open door policy”. In between scheduled meetings make yourself available to provide support or answer questions as they come up. This lets people ask questions and you can pick up signals for how well people are coping. You could set up virtual drop-in sessions where you will be available to your staff to talk about fears, answer questions and reassure them as much as possible.
8. Stay positive but honest
While it’s important to stay positive, you don’t need to sugar-coat things. It’s a tricky balance but the most powerful thing you can do as a leader in a crisis is to be honest and transparent about the state of the business. Acknowledge the uncertainty and the stress lockdown might be causing. When people ask you questions, be prepared to say that you don’t know and that you will come back to people with answers as soon as you have them.
9. Minimise uncertainty
During times of such uncertainty, this is no small task. With coronavirus presenting so many unknowns, people naturally gravitate towards rumour and hearsay on social media and even previously reliable news sources, but it’s usually detrimental to our mental wellbeing. Try to discourage staff sharing alarming news over workplace channels. In your own communications, make sure you lead with the facts, stick to a few official sources and fact-check your communications before you send them. See why complete honesty and transparency is the way to go for Moneypenny CEO Joanna Swash and her workforce.
10. Model self-care and wellbeing practices
Leadership behaviours have a significant impact on the behaviours you will see in your employees. Demonstrating that you are following your own advice and investing in your wellbeing gives people the impetus to do the same. Share what you had for lunch that day or send a goodbye email at the end of the day to encourage people to switch off for the evening. Have a wellness champion or Slack channel for sharing tips and tricks, or running online classes.
11. Offer opportunities for growth and development
Morale can flag when people feel like their personal and professional development have been put on hold. This could be a good time to encourage employees to sharpen their skills with online training. It is also a good distraction to focus on learning rather than worrying about other issues. Find online training and new learning opportunities to offer to employees as an option or suggestion; it might not be a good time to load on additional performance pressure.
12. Promote access to support
Make sure people know who to talk to internally. If you have mental health champions or first aiders make sure they have the latest information. If you offer an Employee Assistance Programme, make sure people know how to access it. The government has also announced a £5m grant for leading mental health charities to fund additional services for people struggling with their mental wellbeing during this time. Here are five of the best offering help and support directly:
- Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters platform has advice on maintaining mental wellbeing during the outbreak. People can also complete a “Mind Plan”, a quick and free tool that has already been completed over 1.8m times
- The Samaritans: Talk to someone, available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or email email@example.com
- Shout Crisis Text Line: If you feel unable to cope and need urgent support, text “Shout” to 85258
- Rethink Mental Illness: Lots of practical advice and support on their website and helpline 0300 5000 927
- Mind: call the Mind information line on 0300 123 3393 or email them on firstname.lastname@example.org