During the coronavirus lockdown, mental health risk has been growing among employees, prompting the NHS to issue fresh advice. But are businesses and managers able to provide support to their staff given the stringent social distancing policies now in place?

The workplace body CIPD had already found that 60% of workplaces reported a rise in common mental health conditions among staff last year – such as anxiety and depression. But tracking how far and fast people fall into trouble is going to be more difficult under the current circumstances.

Rachel Suff, well-being adviser at the CIPD, said with so many people working at home, “it can be even harder for managers to pick up on cues that their colleagues might be struggling. It’s really important that managers are regularly checking in with their team and making use of video calls, so interactions can be as personal as possible”.

She said that employers had a duty of care for people’s health and safety, which carried on no matter where staff are based. “These findings show that while more managers are being trained to help colleagues with their mental health, it doesn’t always seem to be translating into better support for staff,” she said.

The body found that only 31 per cent of managers are thought to have the confidence to have sensitive discussions around mental health and signpost staff to expert sources of help, in its Health and well-being survey at work 2020 report.

The CIPD and Simplyhealth recommend employers take the following actions during and after the crisis:

  • Support and guide their managers so that they feel equipped to have sensitive and supportive discussions with staff
  • Remind managers about the importance of communicating regularly with their team and asking how they are.
  • Encourage staff to practise self-care such as a healthy routine for diet, sleep and relaxation
  • Promote their existing health and well-being benefits and support, for example signposting people to their counselling helpline.

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at the mental health body Mind, has provided a few guidelines for managers to ensure they are taking care of themselves and colleagues:

Maintain a positive work/life balance and encourage your team to do the same 

It’s easy to work longer hours and take fewer breaks when working from home. Why not put a reminder in your diary when you plan to finish working? You can also make sure you take at least a 30-minute lunch break. If you can, try to get some fresh air and go for a short walk.  It’s important you look after your own wellbeing so you can also be there to support your team.

Check in with team members regularly  

Working from home can be isolating; ensure you and your team have regular check-ins virtually. Find an online tool that works for your team whether it’s Microsoft teams, a conference call facility like Skype or by phone. Make sure these regular check-ins are scheduled in advance with your team members: have some daily scheduled chat time with each of them and regular time in the diary as a team.

Establish new ways of working 

Working remotely will require consideration as to how you will deliver work as a team – what collaborative working platforms will be used, how you will communicate and how you support each other through challenges. Some of it might be trial and error so it is also important to think about how you will reflect on what’s working and what isn’t.

Ask your team to create Wellness Action Plans 

This is an uncertain and worrisome time for many and some of your team may need additional support. Why not encourage your team to complete a Welllness Action Plan (WAP) and encourage them to share this with you. If they already have one then it would be helpful to review in light of recent developments and changes. This can be looked at and kept up to date during 1-2-1s. Everyone can complete a WAP, you don’t need to have a mental health problem in order to feel the benefits. It just means that you already have practical steps in place to ensure you are supported when you aren’t feeling great.

Take advantage of technology 

Use Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype or other communication/collaborative working platforms to connect with colleagues and work together. It’s can also be good idea to use a range of technologies so you’re not always typing or looking at a screen – switch things up with a telephone call or video call so you can see someone face to face.

Encourage your team to use the support tools available 

Whatever wellbeing support your organisation has available, make sure your team knows about it and how to access it.  At Mind, we’re offering counselling sessions via skype or phone and we will be trailing the physical activity classes that we offer online. You could also ask your team what tools they might find useful.

For more resources on taking care of staff, click here.