Employers have a legal duty of care to protect the health, safety and welfare of their staff. This obligation extends to mental health as well as physical health.
As employees begin to return to work in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever that employers review their obligations towards employees and ensure sufficient strategies are in place to support and protect employees’ mental health.
When ensuring the wellbeing of employees, communication is key.
The mental health and wellbeing implications of the current situation will vary from employee to employee and everyone will react differently to being asked to return to the workplace.
Some employees may have become accustomed to their new routine and feel safe at home and do not want things to return to how they were. Some employees will be fearful about contracting the virus and the risks they may be exposed to sharing a workplace with colleagues and using public transport. Some will have suffered bereavements and illnesses and may be anxious about family and friends.
There will also be concerns about job security and financial pressures. Some employees are working longer or more irregular hours and many are combining work with caring responsibilities, leading to a poor work-life balance.
Employers should establish open lines of communication with employees and ensure everyone is kept informed so that any concerns can be discussed and managed openly.
Regular staff updates go a long way to providing some certainty and comfort. Employees feel more in control of their work environment and less stressed when they are consulted with and feel genuinely involved in the decision-making process.
Consulting staff, for example through staff surveys, will help employees feel involved, as well as helping employers to identify perceived risks and possible solutions.
Employers should also hold individual return-to-work meetings with employees to discuss adjustments to working practices and give employees the opportunity to raise any issues or concerns so that practical solutions can be worked through prior to their return.
Employers will need to be flexible and take individual needs into consideration when considering solutions such as safety measures, flexible working hours and working from home requests.
It is important that employers are consistent across the workforce when making decisions about future working patterns and arrangements and that these decisions and the rationale behind them are clearly documented.
Under health and safety legislation, employers have a duty to assess the risk of stress-related poor mental health arising from work activities and take measures to control and reduce that risk.
Employers should undertake ongoing risk assessments as staff return to work to identify additional risks which may result from the pandemic.
Employees continuing to work from home may be feeling lonely and isolated and should not be forgotten. Risk assessments should be carried out to consider the impact of home-working on mental health.
Employers should endeavour to break down any stigma attached to mental health and create a comfortable and open atmosphere for employees to raise any concerns.
Employers should make sure that employees know who to talk to if they are feeling stressed or anxious or experiencing problems with their mental health. This may be a line manager, HR or a workplace mental health first aider.
Employees’ concerns should always be taken seriously and people who are specific points of contact for providing such support and assistance should be trained and skilled in how to provide mental health support.
As everyone starts to return to the workplace on a phased and adjusted basis in the weeks and months to come, employers who take positive and practical steps to implement strategies to protect their employees’ mental health and wellbeing are more likely to experience a smooth and successful transition to the ‘new normal’ way of working.
For more information and to find out how we can help you, please contact us on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.