As we pass a year since the initial lockdown, it’s a good time for employers to reflect on staff wellbeing and the support offered by their organisations. This time last year, many of us found ourselves hastily packing up our things in the office and began working from home for the first time. Few of us realised just how long these new arrangements would last, or what other challenges staff might be presented with, such as concerns about furlough, redundancy, or juggling work with childcare and home-schooling.
Regardless of the size or sector of an organisation, employees are bound to be struggling with their mental health more than usual because of the pandemic. It’s in the interests of employers, particularly HR professionals and line managers, to promote staff wellbeing, including identifying and tackling any work-related causes of poor mental health. Employers that invest in staff wellbeing typically report increased staff morale and productivity; and reduced sickness absence and turnover. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal duty to put in place reasonable adjustments to support any disabled employees and this can include staff experiencing mental health problems in certain circumstances. Adjustments could include changes to working hours, roles and responsibilities. We also encourage employers to offer support measures and adjustments to anyone experiencing poor mental health regardless of whether or not they meet the Act’s definition of ‘disabled’.
Employers have been incredibly adaptive in light of the pandemic, for example by quickly updating policies and procedures, such as around flexible furlough; prioritising internal communications to keep staff updated and adapting workplace wellbeing initiatives so they can be accessed remotely. At Mind, staff are offered flexible working hours, access to an employee assistance programme (EAP) and reflective practice sessions with a trained counsellor. We quickly moved our subsidised yoga and Pilates classes from the office to virtual classes online. We’re also trialling a virtual book club and the Random Coffee Initiative: a buddy system randomly pairing colleagues together for a cuppa and a chat.
It’s not just about the support offered, it also needs to be well promoted, easy to access and meet the needs of a workforce. Regularly surveying staff about their own wellbeing and their views on wellbeing interventions will allow an employer to identify what’s working well and what isn’t, and adjust their approach accordingly. With poor mental health rife across the nation, supporting staff wellbeing has never been a greater priority for employers.
Emma Mamo is head of workplace wellbeing at Mind