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COVID 19 and the critical role of managers in supporting wellbeing in the workplace

  • United Kingdom
  • Health and safety
  • Litigation and dispute management

06-04-2020

The COVID 19 pandemic has brought mental health and wellbeing to the fore in many organisations.

These issues have become more prominent across workplaces in recent years but we are now facing unprecedented challenges of supporting distributed workforces working from home or reduced workforces continuing to operate in difficult circumstances. Employees are also often facing complex personal circumstances and pressures like people in the household who are isolating or caring for children or elderly relatives.

More than ever, it is important that organisations revisit how they are supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce and line managers have been shown to have a critical role.

So how should line managers approach this when the workforce is out of sight but should not be out of mind?

1. Setting of realistic deadlines and workloads – there is a reason that this is first up, as unrealistic workloads with short deadlines are frequently identified by workers as a cause of stress. As the work giver, line managers should be aware of personal circumstances, which might have an impact on the ability of an employee to deliver work. Managers should also think about how work can be better presented as manageable chunks. For example, can a large body of work with a deadline of a month that might seem overwhelming, be split into smaller chunks to be completed weekly?

2. Having an open discussion about hours of work – managers should be aware of individual employee’s circumstances and have an open discussion about hours of work and whether they can be flexed to meet both an individual’s circumstances and business need. For example, could an employee work early morning and later evening “shifts” in order to take off some hours in the middle of the day to care for children or take over from their partner?

3. Being a role model and leading by example – employees are more likely to get involved in wellness activities in the workplace or take time out to do something to de-stress or maintain their wellbeing, if they see a manager doing the same. This might be as simple as taking a lunchbreak or some proper time away from the computer, a lunchtime yoga class (virtual or otherwise), or logging off to get out into nature and walk or do another wellness activity. Managers should also respect time taken by others and try and avoid setting work to do in those times.

4. Create opportunities for teams to stay active and take part in mindful activities - managers should consider ways that wellbeing activities can be part of the normal working day, which might be through walking meetings (telecon’s at the moment) and substituting the weekly drinks trolley or trip to the pub with other activities.

5. Real life examples and sharing experiences – managers should be encouraged to share their own personal experiences of how they have both coped and not coped with stressful experiences to open up conversations with employees.

6. Cold hard cash – managers who commit some of their budget to wellness activities send a strong message that mental health and wellbeing is important and worthy of investment.

7. Carrying out “temperature checks” – managers should establish ways of keeping in contact with their team so that they can identify and following up on signs of poor or declining mental health. This will not always be as obvious as sickness or absence, but could be other indicators of low mood, like the lack of work production, tone of voice, lack of motivation, unwillingness to engage or any other behavioural changes.

8. Communicating positive messages and information – it is important that line managers are aware of the support available within their organisations around mental health and wellbeing like the provision of mental health first aiders or employee assistance programmes. Employees should be directed to these resources particularly in circumstances which are likely to trigger stress like times of change.