With a significant proportion of the UK economy now working from home due to the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, both organisations and the people within them are facing an unprecedented challenge in adapting to a new way of working. During these uncertain times, employers have a responsibility to ensure their workforce feels supported, wherever they are in the world.
Employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment. As well as requiring employers to ensure that there are no physical risks to employees, this extends to taking appropriate steps to avoid harm to employees’ mental health and wellbeing. During this period of uncertainty, which is extremely stressful for many, it has never been more important for employers to implement measures to protect mental wellbeing.
In addition to these health and safety considerations, employers must also bear in mind the need to comply with discrimination legislation, including but not limited to, the duty to make reasonable adjustments in respect of disabled workers.
Employers must take a holistic view of the situation and appreciate that this is not just a change in working style for employees, but a change in working style against the backdrop of a global crisis. It is not only working lives that have been impacted; employees are juggling a variety of other concerns including health, childcare and isolation. Demonstrating an understanding of these other factors is a critical part of the mental health strategy employers should be implementing. Employers should be communicating their flexibility and willingness to accommodate employees’ other commitments, wherever possible.
An appropriate internal communications strategy is also particularly important in order to ensure that employees feel supported and to avoid feelings of exclusion or isolation. Many businesses have reported that employees are missing the ‘water cooler chat’ they would otherwise have in the office, and this lack of social contact may be having a detrimental impact on mental wellbeing. Using group video calls is, therefore, a great way to keep teams feeling supported and retaining a feeling of unity.
We have also seen employers taking a variety of other measures to promote mental health during lockdown, from running webinars on how to switch off at the end of the day, to conducting virtual meditation sessions. Such measures have received an overwhelmingly positive response from employees.
April Horsman is a solicitor and Anne Sammon (pictured) is a partner at Pinsent Masons