The Effects on Mental Health: Emerging From COVID-19
12th March 2021
Return to Work, Recognise Mental Health and Provide Support
Worldwide lockdowns have caused a shutdown of industries including the hospitality and tourism sectors. COVID-19 has caused disruptions in businesses which will need years to recover. There has been a paradigm shift in the workplace in the way people work and for those organisation that do not adapt there will be challenges ahead.
As reported by Personnel Today (2020), “of the UK workers polled, 27% of those aged 25-34 said their mental health had deteriorated during the pandemic, compared with 17% of those aged 55-plus”. It is predicted that the prospect of returning to work may cause stress and anxiety for many people. This includes needing to return back and commuting to the traditional workplace.
These issues associated with returning to work will be explored in this blog, alongside solutions managers can follow to ensure employee’s mental health is protected.
The Panic Performance Model
The Panic and Performance model by Useem (1998, cited in Folland, 2010) is a theory that shows the correlation between stress and performance in the workplace. It focuses on the “panic point”, the point at which the curve is at its highest meaning the performance level is at its best. The line can be seen to promptly decrease due to an immense stress level. This moment may come just before employees have to adapt from working at home to the workplace. They may feel overwhelming stress before returning which could negatively affect their performance. To address this, managers should not be focused on removing the stress, instead should aim to build up confidence within employees to reduce the stress, keeping it at a level where they can grow and develop.
Due to the need to work from home, job security has become an unprecedented issue with returning to the workplace. According to the Daily Mail (2020), “unemployment rate is predicted to increase from 3.9% to 20%”, resulting in financial concerns and anxiety. Family income may have reduced due to furloughing or even redundancy, causing anxiety paired with factors such as increased travel costs to work, changes in job roles, resulting in uncertainty.
Exposure to COVID-19 still remains a fear. For example, commuting to work via public transport. Is the working environment providing adequate social distancing? Is the workplace correctly sanitized? Will masks be provided or required? Finally, what about the duty of care within families, particularly with vulnerable members and the increased childcare due to home schooling?
Adapting from isolation
Psychological risks are also of concern. There is a rise of social anxiety in the workplace due to the isolation periods during the pandemic, which may lead to individual’s finding it hard to adapt to the changes in society.
Managers can combat these issues by promoting a healthy work-life balance to reduce anxiety and stress relating to COVID-19. Management should advocate stress management tools by ensuring staff have access to workplace counselling. Through providing support and encouragement, this will address employee anxiety and lack of motivation.
Break the silence – lead by example
A mentally healthy workplace is beneficial and inclusive for everyone in the business environment, not only the people who are struggling with mental health. This involves building a supportive workplace where stress is reduced, and an environment where workers are comfortable in voicing their struggles. Initiating a conversation between employer and employees is critical, employees should be told what to expect and what measures are in place to minimise the risk. When employees believe management values a mentally healthy workplace, there are significant attitude and behavioural developments.
Consideration should be given to workplace adjustments. This might include making a plan for temporary and long-term adjustments. Making the workplace safer, and creating a reassuring environment which is the most effective way to persuade employees to return.
When employees do return, running an induction programme to introduce them to the new changes should be carefully thought through and considered. This ensures the guidance reflects the workplace adjustments and assists the employees to perform their jobs.
The ease of the pandemic brings uncertainty of a post-COVID-19 future. Research by the Future Strategy Club (2021) demonstrated that “more than half (52%) of UK employees said they enjoy a better work-life balance after working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.” The implementation of a hybrid model strategy combines remote work and office time, which maintains employee productivity whilst allowing flexibility and comfort returning to the workplace. This includes the promotion of smaller groups of employees returning to the office and maintaining social distancing.
Providing a secure work environment
Rotational work schedule: When re-opening their businesses, managers should consider splitting the workplace into two sections and providing an equal working opportunity for their colleagues. For example, half of the employees work from home and the other half work within the office. This can be achieved by a rotation of 3 days.
Phased approach: Another popular way of encouraging staff back after time off is by providing a phased return. A way to do this is by starting with 25% of employees in the office. Employers can begin a 2nd phase which is to increase this to 50%. Overtime, this will provide a safe work environment.
Valuing mental health post pandemic
Each employee will react differently when transitioning from home to the workplace. It may have a greater impact mentally on some more than others. It is the responsibility of management to acknowledge that employees may be struggling, and then provide help.
Finally, the focus on mental health has become more important during the pandemic, as the pressure of adjusting from home working to returning back to the workplace can create anxiety.
Listen, Learn, Lead.
For more advice and help visit:
- SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day) http://www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/support/helpline
- Samaritans on 116 123 (24hrs) https://www.samaritans.org/
- MIND https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/local-minds/