Health in the Workplace Covid-19

and the impact on mental health

By Vicki Field (pictured), HR director at The Doctors Clinic Group


popular French saying is ‘plus la change, plus le meme chose’ or in other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Except in 2020.

We have experienced unprecedented change due to the threat of a

deadly virus, which has changed the world in nearly every way. We’ve been living through a budget Hollywood movie for the past eight months, and while behind the scenes, there are a host of scientists working on a cure or a vaccine, it feels like life will never be normal again. Change is always stressful, and the extent of the change we have

experienced as a world, country, society, community, and family is huge. Doctors are talking about the impact of Covid-19 on mental health; it is

going to be immense and employers need to start thinking about how they are going to support employees.

We have been forced to isolate because of fears of spreading Covid-19.

Normal social interaction completely halted, people were stuck living alone or in family groups, which weren’t necessarily happy. Healthy activities such as outdoor exercise, gyms, pools were all curtailed. Financial pressures and threats of unemployment have affected a lot of us. We haven’t had the ability to hug parents, grandparents or friends, with the endorphins that this brings. People turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms – alcohol sales went through the roof, which isn’t good for long-term mental health.

‘Change is always stressful, and the extent of the change we have experienced as a world, country, society, community, and family is huge’

Fear, loneliness, stress and anxiety all increased through this period. Even

children have been affected. For people who have directly experienced Covid-19 and are suffering from ongoing symptoms, or the loss of a loved one, specific care might be required. Those of us already experiencing mental health issues might have found them exacerbated through this period, and an already over-stretched NHS will struggle to cope with the amount of additional people who will need support. As employers, we have a duty of care for our employees, and that duty of care is more important than ever now. So, what can we do:

1. Implement a Health and Wellbeing Strategy: if you have one, refresh and review it. If you don’t, now is a good time to develop one. Think about every part of the health of your employees (physical, mental, financial) and put strategies in place to help with all of them. It doesn’t need to carry extra cost – it can even be setting up walking competitions amongst teams, or providing access to occupational health, or online mental health support services.

2. Think about the specific ‘post-coronavirus’ requirements for your teams. Were you office based? How is the transition to home? Have you asked people how they are? What support they require? Either look at a specific stress survey to see if there are any areas that need to be addressed or ask people to contact you with ideas and recommendations.

3. Talk: the one area that all people agree on when it comes to mental health, is the requirement to talk. So, give your teams the ability to talk to someone. Normalise it. Provide training on how to approach it, this can be done internally or with external experts. Tell people it’s normal to find this time stressful. Take away the fear that if they admit to something, it will make them look weak, or put their job at risk.

4. Keep an eye on data and statistics: are absence rates increasing? Is it intermittent absence? Are you receiving ‘fit to work’ notes identifying stress, exhaustion, depression, anxiety? If you are, look at providing extra support and workshops. Talk to a professional if you need guidance on what to say or how to best support and manage your team members. Make sure you do proper ‘back to work’ interviews so you can monitor statistics.

Life will never be the same again. Let’s look at the silver linings and try to do what we can to reduce the mental health impact of Covid-19 through a range of activities, communications and simply, taking the time to care.

50 CHAMBERLINK October 2020

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