In Light of Mental Health Awareness Week – Mental Wellbeing In the Workplace

Each year, individuals and businesses across the UK dedicate one week to mental health awareness. This year, it is suitably arranged in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and national lockdown, where many of us might be suffering from the consequences of social distancing, fear of mass unemployment and economic uncertainties. It is evidently not only our physical health that is being affected by the situation, but also our mental health.

As an employer, it is important, perhaps more than ever, to understand what you can and even must do to ensure the mental wellbeing of your employees.

Mental Health and Employment Law

Even though you are expected to do more from a corporate citizen standpoint, employers should be aware of what they are legally required to do in terms of employee health, safety and wellbeing – which also extends to mental health.

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ towards their employees, meaning they must take reasonable steps to support their health and safety. It includes providing a safe workplace, protect employees from discrimination, and carrying out risk assessments.

In terms of mental health issues, these can be considered disabilities under UK law – even if the employee does not show symptoms at all times. In the case where an employee’s mental health issue is considered a disability, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate the employee based on this, and the employer must further consider making reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of the employee.

How to Spot Signs of Mental Health Issues

The most common mental health issues are stress, depression and anxiety, though there are, of course, more serious conditions that employees can suffer from. Knowing what the signs are of mental health illness and vulnerability, can assist employers in preventing the condition to deteriorate, but also make sure employee get proper care. Some common signs among employees include:

  • Changes in their usual behaviour, mood or interaction with colleagues.
  • Changes in their performance – it could be the standard of their work, and/or how they focus on tasks.
  • The employee may seem more fatigued, anxious and/or withdrawn.
  • A reduction of interest in tasks that the employee previously found enjoyable.
  • Changes in appetite, which in turn might display as weight loss or gain.
  • An increase in habits like smoking and drinking.
  • The employee shows up late to work and/or their absence due to sickness is increased.

Simultaneously, it is important to point out that each individual cope with mental distress differently – some employees may not show obvious signs at all. It is therefore important to consider what measures you can take as an employer to further detect mental health issues.

What Else Can Employers do?

A supportive environment, including open and honest communication between employers and employees, is key in order to detect mental health issues as well as being able to assist in the recovery of such. Employers need to take mental health issue indication seriously and consider its underlying reasons. Thereafter, one can think about solutions. These could include adjusting your management style, the individual’s targets and their workload.

As a manager, it is important to be approachable and ensure your staff know they can raise an issue with you in case they are feeling mentally ill – which shouldn’t be any more dramatic than reporting a physical disease. Since early detection and intervention are key aspects when it comes to treating mental health conditions, it is important to do frequent check-ups with your staff.

Prevention is another vital approach when it comes to mental health wellbeing. Offering workplace benefits such as meditation classes, office massage, yoga or similar, and further complimentary therapy sessions, can be good ways to reduce stress- and anxiety levels and avoid future complications.

Due to mental health issues, your employee might need to take time off for recovery. Here, it becomes important to stay in touch with the employee and continue to support after s/he returns to work. As a precaution before mental illness strikes, it could be worth for employers to check your policies for dealing with absence.

Mental Wellbeing During Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected our society in many ways, with people experiencing significant change in most parts of their lives – both their personal and professional. It is also a time of uncertainties, when both large and small questions arise. What will the world look like after the pandemic? How will the pandemic affect me, my job and income? What about the health of my friends and family? The Mental Health Foundation reports that more than a third of UK adults who are employed full-time, are worried about losing their jobs. Further, nearly one in four of UK adults who are living in lockdown have felt feelings of loneliness. Now, perhaps more than ever, it is therefore important to consider the measures described above. Employees need regular communication in general, though it is even more important in times of crisis.

Change and uncertainty can lead to emotional distress, including stress and anxiety. With remote workforces, employers need to pay extra attention towards lone workers and any potential signs of mental illness. Regular check-ins become extremely important to make sure these individuals don’t feel alienated or isolated.

Another group are remotely working parents, who might suffer from feelings of inadequacy and frustration due to struggles with trying to balance home-schooling children while also performing at work. In these cases, offering flexible working arrangements can help, such as adjusting work hours or allowing time off, or changing performance measures and individual targets. This flexibility as a solution also applies to those who are struggling with motivation and adjusting to the new, remote working patterns.

For additional management advice, please have a look at our past webinar “How to Lead a Remote Team”.

Coronavirus: 4 Tips for staying productive and motivated while working from home

Choosing to work from home and having no option due to COVID-19 restrictions are two very different things. Which is why there are now countless employees in the UK experiencing a wide range of emotions about being part of a ‘digital workplace’.

For some, it could be the realisation of a long-held ambition to work from home, with all the flexibility and self-management that brings. No distractions from office politics and no commute!

However, many others could be daunted if not distressed by suddenly being thrust into a dispersed team. Particularly if the shift to remote working came swiftly and ‘out of the blue’. Working from home is not everyone’s ideal scenario. Especially if you also now have bored children off school to distract you, and all the additional worries Coronavirus has whipped up.

So, here are some valuable tips on working from home, when the decision was not yours.

1. Set up your workspace

This first bit of home working advice could possibly be the most challenging, but important. Carve out an area that is your designated workstation.

Putting your laptop on the kitchen table amidst arts and crafts clutter or on your lap near the TV could provide too many temptations. Preferably, find a quiet corner of your bedroom, a section of your dining area, the spare room or even a cosy shed if you have one!

This gives you a way to transition between work and home life.

2. Organise your time

This is another way of making remote working seem more natural and palatable. Stick to your normal workday routine. If you normally start work at 9 am, then start then. If your first task at the office was always to put the kettle on, then do that!

Incidentally, if you didn’t go to work in pyjamas we suggest you don’t do that now either!

It’s all about training your brain to become ‘all business’, and getting ready to face your work tasks in the right frame of mind.

That needs to be maintained all day too, including avoiding social media or the television, which can eat into your productivity in an alarming fashion. If you use social media during breaks, close the tabs during your working blocks to avoid distractions. And make sure you complete your daily to-do-lists, or it will lead to a longer list tomorrow.

3. Take breaks

After saying that, another danger of remote working is letting your ‘to do’ list consume your whole day and evening. It’s hard to switch off when you have projects waiting for you on your device.

It’s important to maintain a work-life balance to stay fresh and well-rested. People find themselves to be more productive when working in longer blocks, without interruptions. Take scheduled short breaks to stretch, rehydrate and give your brain chance to ‘reboot’ – and, if you need to do the washing, do it in your breaks. If you are currently not allowed outdoors in your country due to restrictions, take time to exercise or read a book.

4. Take care of yourself

One of the reasons many people prefer to work in an office is because they enjoy the chance to collaborate and communicate in the ‘real’, not virtual, realm!

Remote working can lead to feelings of isolation and even loneliness. Or feeling out of the loop and underappreciated. Guard against this by using all communications channels available to you and checking in with your line manager frequently.

Don’t just share ‘data’ with your colleagues and supervisors either. Replicate the head office chat with some light-hearted social interaction online.

Most importantly of all, make sure you flag up when you are struggling with either work issues or more emotive areas. Your line manager is there to offer support and guidance, so don’t hesitate to ask for it. Address any roadblocks or pitfalls swiftly. If you need positive affirmation and reassurance, don’t hesitate to flag that up too!

Technology can be your friend, not just your taskmaster. There are various ways to set up video links, including conference calls that involve whole project teams scattered across multiple locations.

Who knows, you may enjoy working from home so much that being part of a digital workforce becomes preferable, not just acceptable!

Why is absence management important?

Happy employees

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), the average employee is absent 6.3 days per year, costing companies around £522 per year (the CIPD Absence Management Survey 2016). 

Given the high costs to business, it’s important that you have an effective absence management policy and tools in place. And it’s not just about the costs – there are numerous reasons why absence management plays an essential role in your HR strategy. Here are a few of them.

1. Showing your team you care

There is no doubt that your employees will fall sick from time to time. And when they do, it’s in everyone’s best interest that they stay home. In the era of open offices, it’s easier than ever to catch the office bug that is making the rounds in your workplace.

Some people drag themselves to work despite being genuinely sick. Maybe they are afraid of falling behind on work, don’t want to appear weak or worry about burdening their colleagues with extra tasks. Whatever the reason, it’s important to let your staff know that you care about their well-being and want to give them time to rest. A fully recovered employee is undoubtedly more productive, committed and will likely stay in your company longer.

2. Managing unauthorised absence

Not all absences are equal. Unauthorised absence is when an employee fails to turn up for work without a good reason. These types of absences are not prescheduled or authorized, and sometimes an employee may be deliberately abusing their sick leave privileges. However, with proper absence management tools, you can track, recognise and cut down needless absence. And when employees know that absences are consistently monitored and recorded, they might think twice before pulling a sickie.

3. Identifying problem areas sooner rather than later

Has anyone started taking sick days regularly? Or is it always the same team that is missing someone? Whether it’s about unauthorised or genuine sick absences, it is always worth investigating if there is an underlying reason causing the great number of absences. Besides sickness, a variety of reasons can make your employees reluctant to come to work such as bullying and harassment, stress and burnout, or general low morale at work due to poor management.

Whatever the reason, increasing absenteeism will have an impact on your business. Absent colleagues mean that someone else must usually pick up the slack and juggle additional tasks on top of their own workload. When the situation drags on, it can lead to deteriorating relationships and an increased level of stress. With a proper absence management tracking system, you will be able to spot worrying trends in time and act before the situation gets out of hand.

Have the right tools­

How does your business keep track of absences? While some companies rely on excel sheets in just about anything, many companies are now taking advantage of the large selection of different online absence management tools. What is more, these online HR tools are often designed to not only for absence management but to streamline many other everyday HR processes. When you keep your data in a centralised location it’s easier to get the full picture. Having a bird’s eye view on what’s happening in your company will enable you to make informed, data-led decisions, and act swiftly.

Getting started with absence management

Through proper absence management, you can make sure your employees feel supported in their various life situations while being able to minimise the unnecessary absences. However, each company is unique so copying absence management policy from someone else may not be the smartest idea. If you feel like you might lack the resources, experience or knowledge needed to formulate an appropriate absence management strategy, it’s worth seeking external advice on your next steps.

At Goodwille, we see absence management as an integral part of any HR strategy. Read more about our absence management service and get in touch to get advice on how to formulate your absence management policy and pick the right tools.