How HR Can Support the Mental Health of Employees During the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Crisis
We’re working together through unprecedented and increasingly unsettling times. As global efforts to flatten the coronavirus curve through social distancing and confinement measures take place, whilst the search for a vaccine to prevent people from catching COVID-19 continues at pace. The immediate challenges facing businesses & individuals within them have ranged from mandatory closures across retail, hospitality, travel, construction, leisure and the restaurant & catering sectors. Through to increased consumer demands being placed on the food, pharmaceutical, healthcare, manufacturing & technology industries.
Checking that workers take regular breaks and have a chance to share their experiences of living through the current crisis, is going to be critical to protect their wellbeing
Professional services organisations have not found themselves immune from the impact of the challenges being faced now, with reports ranging increased demand being felt within the legal sector and indeed the pressure being placed on Human Resources professionals, has increased significantly too.
For those organisatons whose operations continue to provide essential services during the midst of the ongoing crisis, the employees within them fall into one of three core categories
1) Front line essential worker
2) Furloughed and therefore employed, but temporarily not working within their role
3) Working from home
The demands placed on HR during this time have been vast, from the initial uncertainty faced by seeking to maintain business operations whilst supporting employees who were navigating concerns about potential illness for themselves and their family members. Through to transitioning employees into temporary working arrangements, be that through home working or otherwise temporarily laid off.
It’s a fact that the Human Resources & people profession finds itself on the front line more than ever, helping organisations adapt and respond to the coronavirus crisis, whilst navigating very different and pressurised ways of working themselves.
The reality for employees now at all levels of an organisation is they find themselves operating in the unchartered territory of a new normal, that has no clear end in sight. For HR, stepping in to support employee’s beyond the practical considerations of contractual amendments, shift pattern changes or effective home working set ups is essential, in a bid to maintain company morale and individuals good mental health.
Support for Front Line Workers
Front line, key workers, operating primarily within healthcare, food retailers, delivery drivers and social work are now faced with the challenge of continuing to perform in their roles, amidst the pressures of strict adherence to social distancing measures, increased demand for the goods or services their organisation offer and concerns about becoming unwell themselves as a result of the COVID-19 virus.
As a result anxiety caused by coronavirus is likely to be high, but here’s how HR can help.
- By ensuring organisation communications are consistent and regular, a sense of transparency & community are essential factors to help employees feel assured and informed
- Through supporting your organisation to ensure health protocols are clear and accessible to all employees at all times
- By collaborating with teams responsible for ensuring your organisation has the right hygiene supplies in place, such as personal protection equipment (PPE), hand sanitiser, hand wash and disposable hand towels
- By keeping employees informed on the steps the organisation is taking around hygiene & adherence to social distancing protocols
- Ensuring advice is available on how to stay hygienic whilst working and what to do in the event of feeling unwell
- By supporting employees with clear information on what to expect in the event of their being absent due to self isolation or an illness recovery period
- Providing coaching support to front line managers on support strategies to assist employees who may be experiencing anxiety as a result of the challenging work environment they now find themselves in.
Support for Furloughed employees
Furloughed employees, who have been temporarily laid off in response to mandatory closures and reduced business activity whilst the pandemic unfolds. Find themselves being supported by the Government’s job retention scheme. This will see employees being in an unusual position of still being employed by your organisation, but not being able to perform their role in any way.
As a result, depending on the industry sector you find yourself in, your furloughed employees could fall into the range of those who cannot physically perform their role because of a mandatory closure, such is the case for restaurant, retail or travel operation staff. Or they could fall into the category of being able to perform their role from home in some capacity, but being unable to do so if the decision has been made to furlough their post.
The employees that can agree to being furloughed are those working for employers whose businesses have been severely affected by coronavirus
In adherence with the Government rules on furloughing which state that services, revenue generating or operational activities may not be provided for the organisation directly or an associate one, it’s essential that HR provides support and counsel to business leaders and employees alike by
- Being as clear as practicable on what the expected timeframes for the furlough period are anticipated to be
- Keeping employees frequently informed on extensions being made to the job retention scheme, such as the most recent one that’s seen an extension put in place, until the end of June
- Ensuring that managers and business leaders are operating in accordance with the rules on furlough and not asking, implying or expecting employees to work whilst they are officially furloughed
- Supporting furloughed employees to continue to feel engaged & informed about what’s happening within the organisation whilst developments unfold
- Embracing the opportunity to engender a sense of community, which can be readily achieved through having regular communications, team conference calls and briefing updates
- Providing clarity to furloughed employees on what they are able to do whilst not working for a period within their role, advising on volunteering opportunities which can readily be taken up without impact to rules around furlough
- Exploring continued training & development opportunities for employees whilst on furlough, particularly as this situation can provide the all too precious commodity of time, to really invest in continued professional development.
Support for remote home workers
A report from the World Economic Forum in 2019 pointed to the fact that a 2017 United Nations report found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers. These findings coupled with the increased pressure of the current crisis, mean that HR and business leaders should together be stepping in to ensure a robust support programme for remote working employees is in place, during this challenging time.
It’s important now more than ever, that HR works in conjunction with business leaders to recognise the impact that home working in the current context and environment can have on an employees well being. Recognising that this is far from a ‘business as usual’ situation, with home workers now finding themselves adhering to the strict restrictions of lockdown and reduced outside interaction, that is fast becoming our newly adapted way of life.
What this means in real terms, is that employees are not only contending with the challenges of their workload, which could have increased to accommodate uplifted demands and decreased coworker resources. But they are also likely to be dealing with the challenge of having additional family members home working at the same time. Coupled with this highly unusual premise, could also be the added pressure of having children at home. Who, without the operation of schools, colleges, nurseries or childcare facilities being in operation, will now be faced with the added challenge of also having to provide home schooling.
This blend, combined with broader concerns about the health of family members, lack of social interaction with friends and loved ones and significant restrictions being placed on daily life as we once knew it, could well result in a heady cocktail of stress, emotion and anxiety, that could severely impact the mental health & well being of employees in the short to long term.
HR can step in to provide support to home working employees by
- Performing an audit to ensure awareness of which home workers may also be managing additional factors. Be that caring responsibilities for young children, home schooling responsibilities for children with more rigorous academic needs, caring for elderly or vulnerable relatives with additional restrictions on their movement during quarantine, or living alone and therefore experiencing greater levels of isolation. It’s essential that HR and in turn business leaders are aware of those who could be affected by mounting challenges, in readiness of more fully supporting them.
- Realising the benefits that can be achieved by utilising great HR software, like CakeHR, which not only helps HR teams remain connected to the whole workforce, no matter where they’re located. But crucially, during this time of Covid-19 crisis, helps HR gain insights into how to best plan ahead, all thanks to data driven HR dashboards and streamlined reporting that readily informs decision making and crucially payroll.
- Being prepared to accommodate, support and sponsor additional requests for flexibility to accommodate additional needs, or leave.
- Helping managers and business leaders to be considerate, empathetic and supportive of the increased demands being placed on employees. Accommodating home schooling, or the needs of very young children, social and financial anxieties all have the capacity to take their toll on mental health during this time
- Ensuring communication channels between employees, managers and HR are open and collaborative. If your organisation hasn’t held HR surgeries in the past, then now could well offer an opportune time to start. Regular diarised catch up sessions where employees can reach out to HR for additional support, signposting to employee assistance programmes and even acting as a sounding board, will all offer invaluable degrees of assistance throughout this troubling time
- Being open and transparent about the support available for employees facing mental health challenges, offers a tremendous way of engendering a culture that recognises the value of supporting good mental health in its employees.
Bringing it all together
Our collective togetherness and focus on health during this time of global pandemic has quite rightly placed attention on how we manage and maintain our health in order to minimise the continued spread of the COVID-19 virus. Health however is not limited to just our physicality, indeed our emotional and mental health is a vital priority for us to support so that we can progress beyond this current period of pandemic crisis.
Now is the call to action for organisations of all sizes, leaders, human resources advisors and business partners to place as much attention on mental health as they would on any other area of organisational operation.
With national campaigns such as Every Mind Matters, being launched in conjunction with the NHS to bring supportive advice and focus to mental wellbeing for the millions staying at home because of coronavirus, it offers Human Resources a genuine opportunity to progress the support around mental health within their organisations.
The needs of employees during this time will be varied, and not everybody will require support from HR or their employer. What is vital of course, during this unprecedented time of global pandemic, is that your organisation is up to the task of supporting its people to weather the storm brought about by COVID-19, so that together we can reach the other side of this pandemic with a renewed strength and focus on the power of good mental health and the significant benefits that can be realised by placing our attentions on how we can truly support it.
CakeHR by Sage is a cloud HR and people management solution that streamlines and automates your HR processes across the end-to-end employment journey, while creating really engaging and rewarding experiences for your employees.