The Mental Health Foundation has been conducting ongoing research on how the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health in the UK. Their research shows that 45% of the UK population felt anxious or worried as of late August 2020.
As part of this focus on mental health, ACAS has published guidance to help staff and employers manage their mental health at work during coronavirus. The guidance aims to provide advice to support the mental health and wellbeing of those working from home, leaving home to go to work or on furlough leave. The guidance also offers advice to employers during this time to support staff mental health.
Adapting to new ways of working
During this unprecedented time, employers and employees have had to adapt quickly to find new ways of working. Some employees will be working from home for the first time, others will be having to work with new restrictions at work and will be worried about their health and safety whilst at work, which can lead to anxiety and mental health issues.
There are a variety of issues being faced by employers and employees at the moment, from lack of social contact with work colleagues and struggling with childcare responsibilities, to worries about whether it is safe to return to the workplace and job security. Employers are also under pressure to ensure staff are safe at work and manage remote workforces, as well as concerns about levels of business.
To find out more about mental health from both the perspective of employees and employers following the introduction of restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus, ACAS has commissioned a YouGov survey. The survey found that nearly 2 out of 5 employees working from home felt stressed, anxious or experienced mental health difficulties due to their working situation and half of people working from home felt isolated.
It is therefore important that both employers and employees focus on addressing any mental health issues at this time and follow guidance available. ACAS offers the following advice:
Advice for Employees
Working from home
- Talk to your manager about hours and when to take breaks.
- Discuss what kind of contact you’d like such as video or phone calls.
- Mix up work so that it involves calls with other staff.
- Plan coffee breaks into your routine with other staff to keep in touch.
Returning to work outside of the home
- Raise any health and safety concerns that may affect your mental health and wellbeing with your manager.
- Talk to colleagues or friends about how you’re feeling.
Advice for Employers
Employers have a ‘duty of care’. This means an employer must do all they reasonably can to support employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. This includes:
- Making sure staff can work safely and healthily, encouraging staff to work from home wherever possible.
- Protecting staff from discrimination, for example making sure reasonable adjustments are considered for employees with a disability
- Carrying out risk assessments and taking reasonable steps to prevent harm in the workplace, following government guidelines on safer working.
Staff may need additional mental health support during this time and in some cases staff may need support such as time off or reasonable adjustments. It is important that employers are understanding towards the concerns and needs of staff while they work in new or unexpected ways. For example, working from home or managing childcare while working.
- Talk to staff sensitively about difficult changes in the workplace such as putting staff on furlough leave.
- Talk to staff as early as possible about when they can return to the workplace and consult with staff about returning to work including trade union representatives, employee representatives and health and safety representatives.
- Be approachable, available and encourage team members to discuss any problems they may be experiencing.
- Ensure you make regular contact with staff who are working remotely and ask whether they prefer contact through, phone, video or email. It is also a good idea to ask furloughed staff if they would like to keep in touch while they are on leave and agree on how often this will happen.
- Ensure staff have realistic targets and feel supported at work.
Spotting the signs of a mental health problem
Not all signs of mental health issues will be obvious, and employers should not make assumptions, but should instead create an environment where employees are able to be honest about any issues and managers regularly engage with staff to find out how they are.
Possible signs of mental health issues are:
- Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn
- Increase in sickness absence or being late to work
- Changes in the standard of work or focus on tasks
- Being less interested in tasks they previously enjoyed
- Changes in usual behaviour, mood or how the person behaves with the people they work with
It may be harder to spot these signs if employees are working from home and in these cases, it is all the more important to regularly check-in with employees working from home to identify any issues.
ACAS’s full advice includes practical steps for employees, managers and employers to help everyone’s mental health during this difficult time.
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