There is no doubt that everyone’s mental wellbeing has been affected throughout every lockdown we’ve had over the past year. In the first wave last March, 62 per cent of adults felt anxious or worried, and, whilst this number decreased over time, the numbers are still worryingly high.
Humans are social creatures and being alone for any extended period doesn’t do our mental, physical or emotional wellbeing any good. Many employees are currently missing the interaction of the physical workplace and that is not only influencing how we feel, but on our levels of productivity too.
Many of us anticipated that we would slowly start to experience some sort of normality in 2021 but sadly this has not been able to happen, which could cause further issues with mental wellbeing.
That said, we have learned a lot from the two previous lockdowns and this time around, there genuinely seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks in part to the rollout of the vaccine program.
Nevertheless, the news of vaccine does not mean employers can become complacent. Unless employers are meaningfully engaging with their employees, we risk another spike of serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
We’ve got a while to go yet
The indications from Government and health advisors point towards a much longer lockdown but encouragingly, from what I have seen, HR teams and employers are already preparing for this.
Many are preparing for this lockdown to last into the Spring, but possibly beyond. A meaningful work routine, regular contact and active engagement between employers and employees will provide the much-needed structure to keep teams healthy and happy, even in this turbulent time.
What steps can employers take?
It is crucial that you continue communicating with your employees. Keep them updated on key business developments, schedule regular check-ins to ask how they are feeling and ask how you, as an employer, can help. It is also key that employers, when possible, take up mental health training to enable them to look for and recognise signs of declining mental health in their employees, as well as seek advice from specialists where necessary.
This engagement should occur at all levels and should not just be left to HR - senior leaders and managers should be reaching out to their teams and line reports too, to ensure no one gets forgotten. Every week, I ensure that I call each team member at least once week for a one-to-one chat and as a chance to identify any potential problems as soon as they arise.
Implementing regular virtual team events can help and using communication platforms can keep the contact and informal chatter that would normally happen in an office alive. The team is always encouraged to share and celebrate their successes, jokes and even what they’re having for lunch – anything that keeps us feeling connected and brings a sense of normality! Teams should ensure there is a focus on positive outcomes and time should be taken to celebrate the daily wins, no matter how big or small.
Examine work patterns to encourage better integration of work to fit around home and family life, offering increased flexibility in the approach to work. This could mean introducing core hours during the day where people are all working together, alongside more flexible parts of the day to fit around home life, especially for parents who may be home-schooling or childcare.
While there’s more hope and optimism this year, we’re not out of the woods yet. Employers must remain vigilant and continue to put their employees’ wellbeing first. This is their responsibility.