Contributed by Darren Hockley, managing director of the UK-based e-Learning provider DeltaNet International.
According to the UK’s Office for Naitonal Statistics, (ONS) almost one in five adults in Great Britain are experiencing some sort of depression during the coronavirus pandemic.
As business leaders, we would be amiss to ignore the impact this will undoubtedly have on our workforce, bearing in mind a staggering 70 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to mental health problems—and all signs point to this figure rising.
More than this, as employers, we shouldn’t forget the duty of care we owe to our employees. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons health and safety training exists: All reasonable steps must be taken to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of those in our employment—and this includes mental wellbeing.
Much has been said about COVID-19’s impact upon our physical health, and without diminishing the devastating physical impact the infection can have, it’s important we also note the widespread feelings of helplessness and anxiety brought about by the pandemic.
As news outlets report further lockdowns, rising infection rates, and more job losses, it very well could be the case that COVID’s second wave includes the advancement of mental illness, not just infection.
For many, the world is no longer safe and predictable. Our employees may be worried about their loved ones, their finances or returning to work amidst a second wave of coronavirus. They may be struggling to stay motivated at work or facing feelings of isolation whilst working remotely.
As business leaders and entrepreneurs, there are steps we can take during these unprecedented times to support our employee’s mental wellbeing and pull our business through the pandemic.
Below are tips to help business leaders encourage positive mental health, maintain productivity and comply with UK laws.
Equality and diversity
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on workplace discrimination. Working mothers are 47 percent more likely to have permanently lost their job or quit during the pandemic, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued a warning to employers about unfair treatment of disabled employees during lockdown.
Remember, UK’s Equality Act 2010 is still in force and directs that employers’ decisions in response to COVID-19 must not directly or indirectly discriminate against employees with protected characteristics—and this includes many people with mental health conditions classed as a disability under the law.
Now is a good time for managers to update risk assessments to consider the impact of coronavirus on specific groups of employees, and to mitigate these risks by taking into account the needs of individuals. For instance, scheduling virtual drop-in sessions for remote workers battling isolation and loneliness, or easing anxiety by expanding flextime options to allow vulnerable colleagues to travel when it’s safest for them.
Research proves that learning is good for wellbeing: It increases our self-esteem and feelings of hope and purpose along with it.
In a workplace environment, setting targets and hitting them creates positive feelings of achievement, satisfaction and optimism for employees. This is how learning is linked to business growth—it boosts productivity.
In the current situation, then, learning and development (L&D) can offer a means to help keep members of staff engaged with current trends and industry developments. Whether they’re learning new skills, refreshing compliance knowledge or simply keeping up to date with activities affecting the daily operations of the company, L&D is good for busines as well as advancing your mental health strategy.
Remember, your company can only succeed if you have a motivated workforce.
Involve your employees
Don’t be afraid to involve your employees in the conversation at the moment. Everyone at your organisation benefits from de-stigmatising mental health, and managers ought to set the tone from the top by demonstrating healthy behavior and keeping lines of communication about the pandemic (or any other worries) open.
Consider hosting small, virtual opinion groups or wellbeing committees to help break silence surrounding feelings of stress, depression or anxiety. Some businesses have even trained key members of staff in mental health first aid so employees know who to turn to in times of crisis.
Similar to physical first aiders, mental first aiders act as a first port of call for staff experiencing mental health issues or emotional distress. Trained to listen and communicate non-judgementally, mental health first aiders can spot the warning signs and symptoms for a range of mental health conditions and encourage staff members to seek appropriate professional support if necessary.
Look after yourself
Demands on business leaders have been high since March 2020. The coronavirus pandemic is the greatest economic challenge we’ve faced since World War II, and those at the business helm have had to respond with speed and flexibility in an ever-changing and uncertain landscape.
Pair this with the pressures of industrial slowdown, and it’s all too easy to see how company leaders might have put the needs of the business above their personal needs and wellbeing in the current situation.
However, doing so for prolonged amounts of time won’t help matters much. It’s important that those focused on building their empire don’t ignore the signs of stress, but instead equip themselves with the tools to recognise and manage it effectively.
Doing so will not only model positive behaviour for your staff, but, as head of the ship, it will help keep your vision sharp and your reflexes intact.
Wherever possible, take regular rest breaks and continue to use annual leave days. Putting some time aside for self-care activities or to spend with loved ones will help keep things in perspective, promoting effective leadership and decision-making as we head into winter.
Darren Hockley is the managing director of eLearning provider DeltaNet International. The company develops engaging compliance and health and safety eLearning courses, as well as tailored training solutions, designed to mitigate risks and improve employee performance.