As the country returns to work, what mental health resources are available for people and how can businesses look to support staff?

As businesses plan to return to office space, thoughts have been primarily around layout, hygiene, and preventing unnecessary contact. These are all important factors of course, but businesses will also need to consider the mental health of staff post-lockdown. These have been ‘unprecedented times’ and more than ever, work should be a place where people are as happy as they are productive.

Mental health charity Mind perhaps says it best:

“Coronavirus (Covid-19) is affecting all our lives. Things are changing fast, and many of us are worrying about what it all means for ourselves and for our loved ones.”

Anxiety and stress may now be a more prevalent issue for more people, but there are resources to help and business owners would do well to make themselves aware of them. This article will address some ways a company can prepare for supporting employees and move forward in a proactive way when dealing with mental health.

How should a business prepare for staff’s return to work?

The Government have provided guidelines for working safely during coronavirus and you can find a list of Official Resources updated as regularly as this changes, to help you manage your own return to the office, but here we will specifically focus on mental wellbeing rather than logistics or physical changes to work environments.

It will be hard to know exactly what the working world will look like post-lockdown, but taking time to consider changes and providing care are an excellent foundation. Kindness is key, as this is a global issue, and many will feel unsure of how to proceed.

Assess old ways of working

It’s time to work out what will no longer work or serve employees post-lockdown. Strict timescales may not be possible, or asking staff to work later or longer hours. There has already been a slowing down which took time for people to adjust to – with many working from home, so don’t expect an instant switch back to ‘normality’. Focus may be limited for some time, so think about how projects and tasks can be tackled. See this as an opportunity to learn new ways of working.

Large meetings may no longer be viable for social distancing. Can you communicate tasks in emails or break out into smaller groups? Businesses may also need to assess how resources are allocated or stored, to keep staff safe and help them to manage their time at the office efficiently and without added pressure.

Make changes and introduce a new (and possibly) higher of level of support that can be scaled up or down as necessary. Some staff may have adapted well to working alone, or with loved ones at home, others may not. Be prepared to offer guidance, HR support or extra time to complete work, and adjust this as things develop or staff gain confidence.

Consider vulnerable staff

You may already be aware of staff who struggled with mental health issues or required help previous to the global pandemic. Be especially aware of these people to make sure they feel supported and not forgotten.

For all your staff, consider risk assessments. This can be as simple as noting where potential problems could arise and considering measures you can take to prevent additional stress. For example, a member of staff who has a key worker partner, or someone who is experiencing childcare issues. There may also be staff who have suffered bereavement during lockdown. Think about ways these staff can access additional help.

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How can businesses support staff returning post-lockdown?

Communication, professionalism, and active listening are going to be key to managing staff returning to work. Documenting and managing situations as they arise instead of waiting for escalation will help to keep things calm and measured. Staff should feel that their company has their best interests at heart and are doing all they can to promote wellness at work.

Communicate emotional support

Clear communication for staff on everything from new hygiene protocol to meeting procedures will help to minimise stress. When staff know what to expect, they don’t have to fill in the blanks themselves or imagine situations which make them feel uneasy.

Involve HR staff if and when you can to make sure things are being done properly and documented. These are invaluable members of your team who are trained to give guidance and support, so use them accordingly rather than struggle with issues you aren’t confident with.

Allow staff to give feedback on how things are going and take on appropriate ideas. Again, this will help them to feel like active participants with autonomy rather than having no control over their working environment.

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What resources are available to businesses to support mental health?

Luckily, the conversations around mental health are happening more frequently and there are specific places for work-related mental health support. After all, we spend a lot of time at our places of work, so it is natural for there to be the occasional bump in the road during our time there.

If you have already noted staff who require additional help, Living with the pandemic if you already have mental health problems from The Mental Health Foundation is a great resource. For those who already struggled and have been especially challenged by the recent events, returning to work may be especially stressful and this should be considered carefully.

Mental health charity Sanctus offer coaching, one-on-one sessions and workshops to help staff and business leaders talk about mental health and work through issues. Sanctus has a blog that tackles wide ranging topics such as dreams during the pandemic and virtually onboarding an employee.

Headspace believe happier people make a happier business, which is why it offers meditation and mindfulness online courses to help employers and employees. They can help with issues such as sleep, focus, and anxiety.

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