The COVID-19 pandemic has created untold challenges for business owners across the world – increasing economic uncertainty, punishing lockdown restrictions and the pressure to create a COVID-secure workplace to aid the return to business. The only certainty has been change.

But what about the impact on your employees? In pre-COVID times, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) reported that work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of working days lost for UK business in 2018/19 alone. 

A recent study from the Royal Society for Public Health found that 67% of people say they feel less connected to their colleagues and 56% saying they found it harder to switch off. Plus, research by the Office for National Statistics discovered that one in five adults experienced some kind of depression in the first quarter of 2021. It’s clear from these alarming statistics that the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the pandemic has served only to exacerbate existing workplace mental health challenges.

But what can you as an employer do to support your staff’s mental health and make sure your people are operating at their best? In this short blog, we’re going to take a look at a few practical tips you can implement.

What does the law say?

The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 places a legal obligation on all employers to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This applies to mental health as much as it does to physical health. And the pandemic has highlighted this responsibility in sharper relief than ever before. 

With more employees working from home, it can be harder to spot the signs of someone struggling with their mental health. But those who have continued to work from the workplace, or are facing the prospect of returning, anxiety around workplace safety continues to cause stress and strain on mental health.

It’s a legal obligation for every business to have a COVID-specific risk assessment. However, your risk assessment doesn’t have to be limited to just the physical risks in relation to the virus, you can consider the mental health risks posed to your people in your COVID risk assessment too.

Protecting your employees’ mental health

So, what can you do to take a more proactive approach when it comes to helping your people manage their mental health? We look at a few, easy-to-implement measures that you can introduce in your business right away.

Communication is key

As with many issues, communication around mental health is key – managers should have an ‘open door policy’ whereby staff can feel comfortable to discuss their issues sensitively and confidently. 

Can you introduce regular catch ups with your people – either in person or remotely for homeworkers – where they can bring up any issues they may be facing with you, and you can support them at the earliest opportunity? Have you considered training for your managers, so they can learn signs of mental ill health to look out for in their teams?

Share useful resources

Suffering from mental ill-health can be isolating from many people, even in normal times. The anxieties of the pandemic and potential isolation through homeworking can extrapolate that feeling of isolation – leaving people feeling unable to reach out.

As an employer, you might have to be the one to open the conversation up and create a culture in which people feel okay to ask for help. Can you provide access to an employee assistance programme or an occupational health professional, so your people know there are mental health professionals who can support them if they need it? It could make the difference between someone asking for the help they need and continuing to suffer in silence.

Set boundaries

One of the biggest contributors to stress during the pandemic has been heavy workloads. This could be due to homeworkers working longer hours, reduced staff because of furlough or even redundancies. Managers should reassess boundaries – monitoring working hours and out of hours emails. And if there have been redundancies, workloads should be shared equally and communicated effectively, to help evenly distribute tasks.

The second biggest contributor to stress was cited as ‘management problems’- could poor management be affecting stress levels in your business?

A good way to address a potential workload management problem is to follow the HSE’s ‘Management Standards’. These standards cover six key areas of work management which, if engaged appropriately, can help your people work more effectively and productively, and minimise the risk of stress.

  • Demands: are the workloads you’re delegating realistic?
  • Control: how much control does an individual have over how they perform their role?
  • Support: do your employees have the right resources and support to do their job?
  • Relationships: do you promote positive working relationships and manage any instances of conflict?
  • Role: does everyone in the business have a good understanding of their role?
  • Change: do you manage and communicate change effectively?

Tackle stress with a risk assessment

Although typically associated with assessing physical risk, did you know you can also do a risk assessment on work stress? Just like other risk assessments, if you have over five employees you’re legally required to write, record and store a copy of any stress risk assessment you carry out.

What’s particularly useful about stress risk assessments is that they make communicating the risks of stress with your people that much easier. It also provides an ideal starting point to have those conversations with your people about the resources on offer to them – from check-ins with managers to more formal help.

Set up your mental health action plan with Southalls

If you’d like help developing a robust plan to tackle stress and support the mental wellbeing of your people, Southalls’ consultants can be with you every step of the way. From support completing stress risk assessments to mental health awareness e-Learning courses, we can give you advice and support tailored specifically to your business.

Head here to book your free consultation with one of our specialists today.