Posted: Mon 2nd Nov 2020
As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions are being re-introduced, employees will be experiencing many different emotional responses.
Responses will be influenced by a range of factors. Some employees will be fearful about contracting the virus. Others will be concerned about job security and financial worries. Some employees are working longer or more irregular hours. Many are combining work with family responsibilities, leading to a poor work-life balance. And some have faced self-isolation.
How employers deal with these feelings can influence how their workforce transitions into new ways of working. So it's critical that employers recognise what stress looks like, take steps to build employee resilience, and manage stress in their workplace.
Stress-related conditions are one of the most common causes of long-term absence from work. According to the Health & Wellbeing survey published in March 2020 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), 37% of respondents said that stress-related absence had increased year on year.
As well as absence, stress at work can lead to reduced engagement, low motivation, increased staff turnover, isolation from other team members, and higher presenteeism.
Employers are not always clear about what their duties are. Mental health is one of the last taboos in the workplace, and it is well known that many employees still do not feel comfortable disclosing such matters. We think that this should change, so here are some measures to support your employees experiencing stress caused by COVID-19.
"Stress awareness space": One suggestion by mental health charity Mind is to create a space where staff can share their thoughts when they are feeling stressed. By making it clear that sharing concerns is valued, employers can start to learn what is causing their employees' stress.
Risk assessment: Are your employees' needs being met? COVID-19 presents unprecedented challenges for safe working and wellbeing. But it is in everybody's interest to have a physically and psychologically safe working environment. This may have short-term costs but is likely to optimise performance in the long term.
Communication: Whether people are in the workplace or at home, two-way communication about new ways of working will reduce uncertainty, distress or ambiguity. Engage with employees so that they can feed into and influence changes and solutions.
A new normal: Consider different ways of working to reduce concerns related to work and the workplace. Stay informed of new requirements and government advice. Consult staff about physical changes to the workplace or working procedures and understand that for some people settling into a new routine takes time, so set realistic expectations and targets.
Connect people: Connecting with others supports good mental wellbeing. Employers should encourage employees to connect with one another in a social environment as well as work-related meetings, whether that be virtually or face-to-face (where permitted).
Treat disclosures with respect and compassion: Discuss a plan for support and adjust where appropriate. Encourage staff to use annual leave to avoid burn-out. Reassure them that their role is not at risk as a result of their disclosure.
Don't forget you: As you begin to face the consequences of the pandemic on your business, while also having to demonstrate leadership in these unprecedented times, don't forget to spend time managing your own stresses, as well as that of your employees.
Stress isn't a new problem; however, the association between work and wellbeing has never been so clear. Early indications suggest that the pandemic will have significant further impact upon the mental health of employees - and it's possible that these implications will be felt for many years to come.
National Stress Awareness Day, held on the first Wednesday of November every year, was established by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) to help develop strategies on how to tackle stress. Employee wellbeing is at the forefront of this initiative, and this year it forms part of a week-long Online Global Stress & Wellbeing Summit designed to provide insights into the changing landscape of the workplace, and to showcase strategies for reducing stress and improving mental health.
For the latest thinking and guidance on stress management, mental health and employee wellbeing, or if you want to get involved with National Stress Awareness Day or the Online Global Stress & Wellbeing Summit, please visit ISMA.