Melanie Astbury: How have employers supported their staff during the pandemic?

The pandemic transformed our entire operation almost instantly. Within a few short days, our in-house team was working entirely from home and our warehouse team was adapting operational output.

Our key concerns during this time were to safeguard the livelihoods of our teams; ensure our business remained operational and maintain the service standards our customers expected.

We quickly adapted, but with no clear indication of how long lockdown would last, our attention turned to focusing on the wellbeing of our team.

As a management team, we recognised the risks of working from home for extended periods: feelings of isolation, anxiety, stress could all be magnified by the situation we now found ourselves in. To help combat these issues, we introduced a number of initiatives to ensure the wellbeing of our team.

Safety is always a priority for us, but as the pandemic raged on, it was vital that we offered optimum protection for our teams working in our warehouse.

From safe working distances to the introduction of personal protective equipment (PPE), we ensured government guidance was adhered to at all times.

We are a very close team, but it is easy to feel alone when you spend all day at home. It was important to us that we were able to maintain a sense of community, friendship and support during this time. We may be apart, but we were certainly in this together.

The first thing we did was to send each team member a box of chocolates to say thank you for being so accommodating as we moved into lockdown. We also had a big party planned, so we decided to change our ‘Spring Night Out’ to our ‘Spring Night In’ and bought takeaways for our team and their families to enjoy. We encouraged everyone to take pictures having fun at home and created a photo album to share with our team.

The holiday plans for our team this year have changed so we have brought a little sunshine to them during the great weather we have had by running a competition to win a paella pan set and a sangria jug to make a refreshing summer drink.

While life is a little miserable right now, we want to stay connected and share memories of how we came together during this time, so we have more isolation garden parties and events planned with our team along with some frozen summer truffles. It is a great way to spark laughter and conversation, and give us all something to look forward to, and back on, when this is all over.

Maintaining normality

We insisted our teams maintained a level of normality during this time and we have actively encouraged them to create a work environment while working from home.

This has included taking breaks and lunch together, keeping after-work-socials in the diary or keeping Zoom on in the background so that they can chat to each other while they work.

One of our teams has nominated radio stations they listen to daily, so they can listen to the same show and sing together.

We are all missing our friends, conversations and jokes, it is these small moments that make our days special; we are keen to keep our culture, even in lockdown.

Mental health protection

Covid-19 has highlighted many concerns for employees, especially relating to matters of mental health. As business leaders, our aim is to ensure our team has appropriate help and support; that their worries and concerns are listened to, and that we help alleviate their fears where possible.

To help instill best practice, I underwent training to become a mental health first aider to help us to spot the signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to assist someone who may need help and support.

As a management team, we have done all we can to instill compassion and understanding. Our employees know we are here for them if they need to talk and that we are doing all we can to create the safest working environment for them.

We understand many of our colleagues have had to juggle childcare and homeschooling alongside work and we have been happy to adapt our working schedule to help them manage responsibilities.

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Small adjustments can have a huge impact on happiness, productivity and mental health; stay closely connected with your team, listen to their concerns and be willing to adapt.

Melanie Astbury is HR manager at Cartridge Save