23 March 2020
Dealing with an increased risk of stress and anxiety, as more employees work from home
With a government directive to work from home where possible in the wake of Coronavirus, many companies are asking their staff to do this for the first time. And while this has been a trend for some years, the practicality and reality of working from home will still be a shock to the system for many. Combined with emotions running high around Coronavirus, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges can cause stress and anxiety,1 employers need to do what they can to support the mental health of their workforce during such an unprecedented time.
There are few things more stressful than tech not working. And without a colleague from the IT team able to come and help at home, the stress can be magnified. Employers that expect staff to work from home need to make sure they’re supported with adequate technology and good telephone support, enabling them to carry on with duties as seamlessly as possible and minimising causes of stress.
With team meetings increasingly becoming virtual in order to support social distancing, it’s a good idea for businesses to introduce etiquette guidelines to avoid these descending into chaos - so that people don’t talk over each other, for example. Communication with others is particularly important right now, so it’s important it works well. Set an agenda, lay out some ground rules at the start of each meeting, give everyone an opportunity to speak as each point is discussed, agree concise action points and follow these up by email to all attendees. Providing structure and clarity during a time that can feel like freefall, can help anchor employees in the present and keep anxiety at bay. If regular meetings were held in the office on certain days then make sure you continue holding the same meetings virtually, on the same days - as comfort can be drawn from the familiar too.
Keep in touch
As many lone workers may have experienced already under different circumstances,2 for many people the workplace is an important source of social interaction, and being isolated from it can cause feelings of loneliness – so it’s imperative that companies keep in touch with their staff. Email is always an important means of communication but it can be relied on far too much when people are working remotely - it’s important that managers and colleagues make the effort to pick up the phone and talk. Regular phone calls, video calls and virtual meetings all help maintain communication around policy developments with Coronavirus and – as importantly – help employees to continue to feel engaged and part of the team.
During a time of heightened anxiety, with fears around health and prospects with employment, it’s important to be as open and honest as possible with developments. Shutting down lines of communication may fuel the fire with regards to gossip, creating an unhelpful and inaccurate narrative that can cause further anxiety. Maintaining regular contact gives the opportunity to spread factual information, whilst enforcing the sense of comradery amongst employees.
Mental health support
Employers can’t be expected to know how to offer professional support, but they can signpost supporting services to employees. Businesses that offer benefits such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs), virtual GPs, health and wellbeing apps, or direct lines to mental health specialists – are likely to find that these benefits are really coming into their own right now. Revisiting existing benefits and considering what other support services may be beneficial to offer, can be extremely valuable to a workforce that may be experiencing new or heightened mental health concerns as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.
Brett Hill, Distribution Director at Towergate Health & Protection says: “These are unprecedented times and employers have a lot to get to grips with. Bearing the brunt of a lot of this change are employees themselves. The first consideration in the wake of Coronavirus is physical wellbeing, but staff need much fuller support if they’re expected to work from home, and to remind them that they’re still part of the team.
“Understanding that it may take a toll on their mental health and thinking through some of the ways pressure can be alleviated, will help employees to manage themselves more effectively in the short and longer term. With many employers scrambling for solutions, to the multitude of challenges Coronavirus has presented, health and wellbeing benefits can lighten some of the load, supporting employees to manage their mental wellbeing more effectively.”