How to ensure good employee mental health during lockdown

By Pelican director Cheryl Bennett

3 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • It may be harder to monitor staff mental health remotely, but there are red flags you must look out for
  • Introducing good practices now may help in the long term. If your staff take time off with mental health issues, your business will suffer and there may be a financial impact

After a year punctuated by tough restrictions and tier systems, we are now in the midst of yet another national lockdown. This one will be the hardest yet, falling as it does in winter.

By late April 2020, mental health in the UK had already “deteriorated” compared with pre-pandemic trends, according to the Lancet medical journal. Now, with fewer hours of daylight, fewer opportunities to get outside to exercise and increased uncertainty about new coronavirus variants, the risks to our mental health have grown further.

How working from home is damaging our mental health

Loneliness and lack of support:

The lack of physical connection might be something we’re getting more used to, but it can leave staff feeling they have nowhere to turn when they feel stressed or anxious. It also makes it more difficult to form a strong support network of colleagues, which is crucial for good employee mental health.

Working from home challenges:

Despite the temptation to work longer hours and check emails at the weekend, there’s still the perception that people working from home are doing less than those in the office. Research from Westfield Health in April 2020 showed that even those working from home felt other colleagues doing the same weren’t working hard.

Unfortunately, partly due to home-schooling, some people are in fact struggling to maintain productivity levels at home. This results in feelings of guilt, the stress and fatigue of spreading themselves too thinly, working irregular hours and in the end, not doing anything particularly well.

Even those coping relatively well can struggle to separate home and work life, especially if they don’t have a home office setup.

Zoom fatigue:

A new trend of back-to-back virtual meetings is emerging, as well as meetings being scheduled after-hours, neither of which would be possible in a physical office. Although these meetings might seem the obvious way for teams to stay connected, they can trigger fatigue and actually leave participants feeling more isolated, particularly during larger meetings where the speaker is unable to see individual faces.

All this adds up to raised stress and anxiety levels, which is bad for employee wellbeing as well as productivity.

Are your employees struggling?

Picking up on signs your staff are struggling with their mental health is even more difficult when everyone is working remotely, but there are a few red flags you can look for.

  • We’re all dressing more casually while working from home, but take note of anyone looking particularly dishevelled or unkempt. It might indicate they’re not looking after themselves properly.
  • There are plenty of funny TikToks doing the rounds of people pretending to nod off during a Zoom call, but looking or sounding exhausted in meetings indicates loss of sleep which is a side-effect of stress.
  • Look out for changes in responsiveness; becoming more reactive by snapping at people or being on a short fuse. The opposite is also a cause for concern; shutting down and looking or sounding lethargic and blank.
  • Be aware of any slips in quality of work, missed deadlines or silly mistakes. These might be a result of a team member’s inability to juggle home and work responsibilities or a sign of mental health issues.
  • Conversely, compulsively overworking and difficulty switching off should also be noted.

How can you help?

First of all, if you think someone is suffering they may be afraid to admit they are struggling to cope, so don’t be afraid to ask how they are doing.

Consider creating a ‘healthy homeworking guide’, which could include suggestions for ten-minute breaks between meetings, or meeting-free days each month. Both can help reduce the pressure caused by being constantly online.

To avoid isolation, it is also important for managers to schedule daily team catch-ups, as well as time for confidential one-to-one chats with team members. This will reassure staff that lines of communication are always open.

Although it may feel beyond your remit, you can help employees maintain boundaries between their personal and professional lives. Ask what they’re doing to keep a regular schedule and encourage them to take regular breaks from screens. Ensure they’re shutting computers down at the end of the working day and suggest putting laptops and paperwork out of sight until the next day.

Why does it matter?

As working from home continues we’ll see increased focus on mental health and wellbeing, with ‘empathy’ being the buzzword for interacting with colleagues, staff and clients who will continue to work in isolation. When the world returns to some sort of normality, the offices people want to return to are more likely to be the ones where management was supportive and understanding during this difficult time.

If you would like to discuss the benefits of workplace mental health further, or arrange for one of our experts to run an online session with your team, get in touch today.

Pelican Communications is a specialist in the environment & CSR, food, packaging & logistics and trade association sectors and offers a range of services such as strategy, design, content

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