Support Staff

Natalie Rogers, Chief People Officer for employee benefits provider, Unum, shares some tips for employers to consider when it comes to addressing their employees' wellbeing and motivation.

The Government’s policy paper ‘Staying mentally well this winter’ addressed the mental health issues that will affect many of us during the colder months. While social restrictions will not be in place forever, employees are likely to need additional mental health support to help them get through the start of the year and stay productive and positive while remote working.

Following the Government’s latest announcement, UK workforces are again adapting to this new lockdown period across the country. Now more than ever it’s vital that employers are tuned in to how their employees are coping. Symptoms of stress can appear physically, behaviourally, or cognitively via a noticeable dip in performance, but it can be hard to identify the signs, particularly from a distance.

There are a number of steps you can take as an employer to better support the mental wellbeing of your employees, including decreasing stigma around feelings of loneliness, depression and even addiction.

  1. Listen to your staff: The first thing any organisation needs to do is listen to their staff and ensure they feel safe and supported. This is a stressful period and can leave many feeling mentally vulnerable. Taking the time to listen to individual feedback about ways of working day-to-day will not only ensure your team stays productive, but they stay positive too.
  2. Be aware of excessive drinking: Stress can be a significant contributor to increased alcohol intake, so rising consumption during the pandemic isn’t a surprise. Employers need to be aware of these shifts in behaviour and ensure employees know where to turn for support.

  3. Be aware of SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression prevalent during the darker months and can cause individuals to experience drops in mood, feel less active, have a lack of interest in socialising and want to sleep more. Encourage your employee to consider consulting a doctor if they share that they are experiencing these symptoms. Also encourage everyone in your team to spend a bit of time brightening up their desk at home or go for a walk at lunchtime to ensure they’re seeing some daylight.

  4. Be open: Encouraging open conversations about mental health, discussing the support available, and ensuring everyone has a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development all help employees feel valued and supported.

  5. Stay safe: Consider mental health training to equip line managers with the skills to spot and support an employee who may be having difficulties. Clearly communicate the safety measures that have been introduced to make the workplace COVID-19 safe and ensure employees who are continuing to travel into the office understand the guidelines in place.

  6. Share support resources: Many employers provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) offering advice and support on a range of work and life issues. There may also be other mental health resources – for example, Unum provide specialist mental health support to employees when their employer has a Group Income Protection policy. Not all employees know these resources exist though, so again communication is key.

With many UK employees working remotely, it’s easy to overlook the value in taking regular breaks. Staying safe while taking time for some sort of daily exercise is important for physical and mental health. As there is less sunlight in the winter it’s best to spend time outdoors earlier in the day to maximise daylight exposure.

What’s more, working remotely for long periods of time can lend itself to bad working habits. For example, late night emails can make employees feel pressured and be a trigger for workplace stress and burnout. Leading by example is the best way to promote a healthy work/life balance throughout these difficult times.

Bethany Wright
Article by Bethany Wright
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