We are fast approaching December and the holiday season and the UK is currently in the middle of its second lockdown of 2020. Many people faced with the prospect of working from home for another 4 weeks might experience poor mental health as a result. As an employer or manager you may be wondering how to keep employees happy and productive during this very difficult and stressful time. Timelines have changed, routines are completely reversed and the usual social comfort of the workplace has been replaced by a very controlled and isolated space. If an employer wants to keep employees as productive as possible during this time, it is important for them to realise that the general work situation has completely changed for everyone, and many employees may need help adjusting to this new way of life. Here are some guidelines for employers to ensure their employees feel as comfortable and supported as possible.
You should keep in regular contact with your staff and employees during the lockdown period, especially as we near the end of the year and the holiday season. Try to be honest, and start by acknowledging the uncertainty and the stress caused by being in lockdown and working from home. Be prepared to say that you don't have all the answers, but that you will be in touch as soon as official guidance has been updated or released. Clear communication between employers and employees during this time is important regardless of whether they are still in the workplace or working from home, as it will provide staff and managers opportunities to engage socially which can be a boost to their mental health.
They will also be allowed to more regularly raise their concerns, as as a manager it is your responsibility to ensure they know that they are being listen to, which may further decrease stress levels. Furthermore, ensure that alongside regular communication with all staff, you also communicate with line managers, as they will be the ones generally interacting with the employees. In short, consistent communication should be encouraged, even if you as a manager don’t have an immediate solution at hand.
Everyone has issues with mental health and, whatever their circumstances, the pandemic will have an impact on how people think and feel about themselves, the world they live in and the future they have in it. Good and productive work is great for mental health and it's important that employees feel that they are still contributing towards the business, even if it is only in a reduced capacity. Some employees will be at a greater risk of poor mental health than others, depending on their living situation or personal lives.
Employers have a responsibility to try to act in a way that protects, preseves and improves the physical and mental health of staff, starting with those who are in greatest need. Employees living far away (or overseas), with disabilities or with large families may struggle more during this time if they begin to feel isolated, and employers should ensure that they offer consistent support and assistance to these employees.
There is a lot of talk of physical vulnerabilities in relation to the coronavirus, and how they may worsen during this time. However, senior managers will also feel vulnerable in demonstrating leadership in unusual and stressful circumstances, especially when they feel they do not have enough of the correct information to give out to their employees. Managers may also feel responsible for employees on furlough, or those who have been let go, which may further add to their poor mental health.
Therefore, managers and those in leadership positions should help each other stay composed by offering encouragment and support over the lockdown period. This could be through the sharing of information, delegation of work or just through honest and clear communication. As a rule of thumb, managers can follow this mantra: positive reinforcement will generally yield positive results and outcomes, even for those with difficult circumstances.
Employers should encourage their employees and staff to plan for how they will manage under self-isolation and/or quarantine. While government guidance has previously stated the lockdown timeline, employees should understand that they need to be flexible in case the lockdown is extended. Employers have a responsibility to check for regularly updated mental health advice, as well as official updates on the pandemic, and encourage people to discuss their plans with their respective managers.
Again, communication in this case will help relieve some of the stress employees are feeling. If people are at home social distancing or self-isolating with symptoms, managers have a responsibility to keep in touch with them to ensure they are not struggling too much, as the feeling of being left out of communications or that you cannot make a contribution to the business may further result in poor mental health for employees, in turn negatively affecting their productivity.
Employers can encourage employees not to share too much information about the virus if it doesn’t come from an official or reputable source, as this spread of fake news may add to their stress. Only articles from reputable and official sources should be circulated. Official sources can be found at the following sites:
Published on 18 November 2020
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