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Mental Health During a Pandemic

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Mental ill health is estimated to cost UK businesses £35 billion per year and is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK.

Employers now more than ever need to be engaged with the mental well-being of their staff working from home. As organisations plan to reopen workplaces, some employees are anxious about returning. To address this and what HR practitioners can do, CIPD included an interactive panel discussion on the second morning of the Festival of Work called Managing Mental Health chaired by CIPD’s Rachel Suff.

Dr Will Ponsonby suggested that people are not feeling in control, many have financial worries and/or redundancy fears; there is a reported increase in domestic abuse, different social circumstances impact on people’s lives and essential workers under lots of pressure. Suspected post-traumatic stress for healthcare workers will be an issue because of some horrible experiences. Will recommends two way feedback and communication with staff. Those with underlying conditions may need particular consideration before returning to work. Peer support is also very important.

Gail Hatfield shared that each person’s experience is different. Her organisation had been described as having a friendly culture and as being supportive in recent staff survey. All line managers have had mental health first aid training. But since Covid they have already seen rise in anxiety. They are counteracting this by placing a big focus on communication and asking people’s views. They have reviewed working hours, empowering managers to agree this with their staff. The return to work is more complicated for multi-occupancy offices. Gail is seeing the return to work as a learning experience.

Questions were asked about referrals to occupational health. Will thought line managers should play a role is this. Gail uses her OH provider proactively to support risk assessment for home working. Next questions were asked re mental health training. Emma Mamo from MIND said boundaries needed and support for those involved. It’s a new and fast growing facility so more needs to be learnt. Gail shared information re return to work focus groups. Subjects include physical aspects including travel, lunch etc. and psychological contract e.g. missing aspects of home working such as family contact, flexible hours and more time to exercise.

Questions were also asked about them and us negativity between those who could work at home and those who could not. Emma recommended that people should be encouraged to express their views on this and be carefully listened to. Statistics showed there had already been an increase in mental health issues since lockdown. The panel thought it was important to encourage both managers and staff to talk honestly about mental health. It is known that the stigma that surrounds it means that some people will report in sick with a physical condition when it is really a mental one. Other strategies recommended include signposting to counselling and further support.

Gail was asked about performance management in lockdown. She felt a balance was needed between addressing poor performance and finding out what personal issues maybe affecting performance. She admitted that these conversations were harder when carried out remotely.

It was interesting to learn about the increase in mental health training for managers. Even an SME like Acacia Learning has now trained two of its managers accordingly.

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Useful Resources

Mental Health at Work –
Provides online resources for HR practitioners including a Coronavirus toolkit as well as; support for line managers; assessing your organisational approach; workplace culture; developing policy and practice.

Heads Together Workplace Wellbeing Programme –
Spearheaded by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge includes resources for employers to address workplace mental health. Plus free online training for SME employees about workplace mental health to help better support you and your colleagues.

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