Looking after your employees post-lockdown: mental health and work

Looking after your employees post-lockdown: mental health and work
  • Financial wellbeing
  • 4 minute read

Workplace wellbeing strategies have come to the fore for HR leaders in recent years and even more so in recent months, as the lines between home and the office become blurred, making stress more difficult to manage. For this reason, an on-site health check and private medical care are now a common feature of many employee benefits packages.

As the UK eases out of lockdown, our focus has shifted from how to show compassion to employees who are sheltering and working from home, to managing the impact of the pandemic and our collective return to our physical places of work.

Conducting a regular wellbeing check-in with staff is just one way to ensure you’re looking after your employees post-lockdown and making people feel supported as they get used to adjusting their routines again. Research tends to back-up what many HR business partners know instinctively – the majority of workers feel more productive when they have “a great workforce experience (78%) and [are] being valued and recognized (66%) over perks.”

Lockdown and its effect on workplace wellbeing

Being forced to stay indoors for most of the day has become ‘the new normal’ for the majority of working-age people and dealing with this change has of course been intensified by other worries. Our health and those of our loved ones, disruption to children’s education, job loss and a lack of opportunities to exercise throughout the day have taken their toll. 45% of people we surveyed for our report, Changing trends of financial wellbeing, told us that they worried about their physical health more than they did before the Coronavirus crisis

This study also highlighted that money worries were more common for women after the crisis. More women have had to eat into their savings to survive this period than men. In comparison, the men who took part in the research were able to add 9% to their savings. Gender disparity when it comes to finances also shows up when we look at the link between money and mental health. Female employees are nearly twice as likely to admit to worrying about money constantly than male employees (16% vs 9%).

Traditionally, women take responsibility for more than their male peers, including parenting duties and managing the remote-schooling of their children, whilst being expected to work from home and, in some cases, master new technology for keeping in touch with colleagues and friends. Women have also been more at risk of domestic violence during this time. The Government and various charities have made extra help available for victims during COVID-19.

These sources of increased stress on employees are bound to affect their return to the office and employers can prepare for this by putting new support measures in place, and perhaps making changes to employee benefits packages, with an emphasis on reducing financial stress and general anxiety.

Organisations are becoming more aware of their power to help their teams by addressing mental and financial wellbeing. Anxiety is on the rise, which is something people are worrying about (worrying about anxiety itself), 41% more than they did before the pandemic, according to findings from our Changing trends of financial wellbeing report. As well as general worries, the research shows that 36% have started to worry more about their financial health compared to before the crisis and that younger employees are experiencing this more than their older colleagues.

Companies who are leading the way and developing best practice when it comes to looking after your employees post-lockdown, are providing their staff with financial advice or guidance and resources to relieve stress as well as signposting.These organisations have received praise from the public and the media for their efforts. Forbes has even created a new ranking based on employer response to COVID-19. Money management advice, salary sacrifice schemes, employee discount schemes, low or no-interest loans, saving schemes and pensions advice are just some of the methods brands have adopted in a bid to help reduce stress and in turn, keep productivity high. 

Mental health and work

Working from home inevitably means we will spend more time alone instead of chatting to co-workers and going to lunch with them. Rather than filling breaks and lunchtimes with listening to news or scrolling social media feeds, HR teams could compile a list of alternatives – lunchtime Zoom clubs, relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or journaling and an ‘open door’ policy.

Our new data also reveals that 16% of people worry about their own mental health at least once a day, so these suggestions could be a welcome distraction.

The Mental Health Foundation has acknowledged the difficulties some will face as we emerge from sheltering or lockdown: “...many of us may find even these longed-for changes difficult for our mental health. The idea of coming out of lockdown when the scientific debate is ongoing may also be worrying for those of us who are more at risk from the virus or living with mental health problems.”

Physical health

Practical ways to assist employees with improving health and fitness needn’t require a budget or be complicated to implement. Through informal conversations or a company-wide email, it may be helpful to encourage your employees to reschedule missed hospital procedures or screenings they could not attend due to COVID for instance. 

Introducing more benefits related to private health care could help workers and their families tremendously, as could an internal campaign to encourage healthy habits and more exercise. Our report has found that 74% of 18-24s have suffered with some kind of health issue during the crisis whilst 20% have seen their physical health worsen, and 27% have suffered physical fatigue as a result of money worries, so there is a strong case for paying attention to how you can help staff overcome these challenges which will have a knock-on effect on their ability to perform at work.

Conclusion

Talent acquisitions and retention, employee engagement, productivity and reducing absenteeism are all at the mercy of the various mental, physical and financial concerns that employees are facing today, now more than ever.

As well as the ever-present human side of HR, organisations have a legal duty of care towards employees and are also under pressure to deliver to shareholders, remain financially-viable and meet market expectations around benefits and support packages. All these factors make it harder and harder to place profit before people and it is encouraging to see HR directors embrace this and develop truly fantastic support initiatives as a result.

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