HR & Mental Health - COVID-19

Furlough is a completely new word in employment law so don’t get too hung up on the meaning. It is a new classification of employee/worker status as part of the Governments Job Retention Scheme which sits alongside temporary lay off and means that the employer can claim a grant from the government for 80% wages to be paid.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused severe disruption to many businesses. With the uncertainty and changing guidelines it is natural that an employee’s mental health may be affected. As with any mental health condition it can be triggered by a variety of factors including:

  • Personal issues – financial uncertainty, cancelled holidays, special events being cancelled.
  • Bereavement – loss of a loved one due to Covid-19 (or other circumstances i.e. not being able visit ill relatives or be able to see someone before they have died).
  • Anxiety about catching the virus (themselves or loved ones).
  • OCD about cleanliness.
  • Juggling responsibilities – parenting, schooling and working.
  • Impact on relationships – children and families spending more intense time together. Remember that for some employees home is not their safe place due to domestic issues. Don’t assume that employee will enjoy being at home.
  • Inability to carry out normal activities that usually reduce stress e.g gym or social events.

What can you do to help your employees?

Check in with absent employees – try to communicate as much as possible.

Encourage them to stay healthy and active (within the recommended limits during this time).

What if you’ve had to close the business and employees are laid off?

Remember they remain employed so communicate with them during the period of lay off if this is practicable. Ensure they have a contact number so they can speak to someone if they have any concerns or queries over pay or terms of employment.

What if you’re busy and employees are working harder than ever?

Firstly, make sure you are doing all that you can to protect them in the workplace, provide safety equipment, implement social distancing etc… Listen to any concerns that an employee may raise and remember that this will affect every employee differently depending on their circumstances and any pre-existing mental health conditions.

Make sure you check in a little more on those you know may be suffering more at this time e.g. because of pre-existing mental and / or physical health issues or due to personal circumstances.

Make sure employees who remain working are recognised and feel valued for what they are doing.

What if you’ve got employees working from home?

This can be a test of the trust between the two parties.

  • Encourage team meetings – utilise video conferencing such as zoom and Microsoft teams.
  • Set a schedule where possible and obtain feedback on progress.
  • Make sure the home environment is set up for working and that the employee is going to be comfortable.
  • Avoid employees working longer hours from home unless this is absolutely necessary, try to maintain a work life balance. Remind employees to take breaks.
  • Ensure the employee is still supported by management and involved in decision making where appropriate.

Other interesting ideas:

Some employers may have an EAP scheme in place for their employees, this is a good time for these schemes to be utilised – they offer a range of independent support and advice to employees. You may also want to point them in the direction of organisations such as MIND who offer helpful tips on coping in these uncertain and difficult times.

  • Remind employees of the potential financial support out there – for example mortgage holidays which may help them to reduce the financial burden at this time.
  • Promote alternative mindfulness activities, meditation, online exercise classes, reading, taking up a new hobby.
  • Plan a celebration for the return to the workplace.
  • Most importantly try to be understanding to each individual, these are unprecedented times for everyone.

If you have a specific question that we have not covered then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.