The Effects on Mental Health: Emerging From COVID-19

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Spring 2021

Return to Work, Recognise Mental Health and Provide Support

Image from University of Gloucestershire

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.

COVID-19 impact

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.

Employee Concerns

Image by The People Speak via Flickr
Job security

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. 

Family safety

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.

Tangible Support

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.

Workplace adjustments

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.

Image by Alex Green via Pexels

Strategy Implementation

Work-life balance

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.

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Dora Sacalos says:

This was an interesting blog and you make some excellent points. I work within the hospitality industry and I am also worried about the transition from furlough back to work.
One thing for sure is that managers will need to implement some of these ideas to protect the mental health of their employees.

s1804217 says:

Hi Dora, thank you for engaging with our blog! Your feedback is really appreciated. We felt it is a key issue that many are concerned about.

Lea Perussina says:

What a great read! I thoroughly enjoyed the topic discussed, what made you write about this topic?

s1804217 says:

Hi Lea, we are pleased you enjoyed reading our blog! Thank you for your engagement. We felt mental health is a key, contemporary issue that needs to be talked about more especially right now with many worrying about their situation and methods to combat these concerns should be explored and implemented by managers to protect the mental health of their employees.

Brandon Thompson says:

Great article!!

s1804217 says:

Hi Brandon, thank you for reading! Much appreciated 🙂

Abi says:

love this!! very interesting to read about how its impacted hospitality employees, and adding the helplines at the bottoms is so helpful to those how may not know about specific ones!

s1804217 says:

Hi Abi, we appreciate your feedback! 🙂

Gary says:

An interesting read that has raised awareness of a very important issue, that has affected thousands of people throughout this pandemic.

s1804217 says:

Hi Gary, thank you for your comment. We are glad that you agree with the significance of this issue.

Sarah Crawford says:

This is an exceptional blog. I think the way you have considered all the concerns and stresses but also thought of solutions is excellent. It’s made me concentrate on a plan when reintroducing my team back to the office. I think a phased and supported approach might me the best option.

s1804217 says:

Hi Sarah, thank you so much for your interaction with our blog. We are delighted that you, as a manager, have found our solutions to protecting the mental health of employees beneficial and hope that your team transition effectively with these approaches.

Bee says:

As a local government employee, one way systems have been put in place in the establishment to keep minimal contact from other employees. Having a rotating schedule is a good thing as well – being on a flexi schedule means that we can come in any time as long as we do our hours. This contract is a good thing in case you’re struggling from working at home and cant adapt to the situation that we are in.

s1804217 says:

Hi Bee, we appreciate you taking the time to engage with our blog. It is interesting to hear about your experience with approaches that your workplace has already incorporated. Thank you for highlighting the benefits these approaches too 🙂

Matt says:

This is definitely a topic that needs to be brought to attention to not only employers but employees too. Employees need to know that it is ok to have these feelings of anxiety and that there is help.

I will be taking some of these ideas to HR as I transition my team back into the office. Thanks for bringing this topic to light.

s1804217 says:

Hi Matt, thanks for your engagement with our blog. We are glad that you agree with the importance of this topic! Absolutely agree with your comment, employees should feel comfortable and supported when voicing their concerns and employers need to be prepared to deal with this appropriately. Pleased that you found our blog beneficially.

Lily says:

Great topic!
For managers/management to provide support to staff for their mental health, there should be proper training and guidelines. Therefore, I believe the industry-wide education on the topic is really important.
Showing kindness to each other is a good starting point though and we can do it now – ask your colleagues how they are!

Ed says:

My work setting implements protocol changes frequently due to the pandemic, causing employees to be forced to adapt efficiently. This can definitely add stress and anxiety because what you know today will be done differently tomorrow. A very informative blog!

s1804217 says:

Hi Ed, we appreciate you taking the time to read our blog! Thank you for sharing your experience of how easily the mental health of employees can be affected in the workplace due to a system with fast-paced changes.

Susanne Casey says:

Excellent read !
One member of our household has worked from home through the pandemic.
Info accurate, helpful and very informative.

s1804217 says:

Hi Susanne! Thank you for engaging with our blog. We hope that this member has adapted well. thank you for your comment.

Nicky says:

I found this blog very interesting and thought provoking. I manage a team who have been home working for much of the last year. They have remained very productive and the business has got more out of them than their contracted hours as they are not commuting to the office. However, working from home has effected the Teamwork ethic .they have become very insular. I’ve found the phased and rotational reintroduction to the office concept very useful and shall use one of these over the next month with my team.

s1804217 says:

Hi Nicky, we are pleased you enjoyed reading our blog. It is great that the productivity of your employees were not impacted from remote working as this is not the case with a lot of individuals. Implementing our suggested approaches would help to make your team to feel less isolated and introduce them back to the workplace effectively.

Joy Ballamy says:

I have enjoyed reading this blog. Well being of the team I am managing has been a paramount consideration. I have offered great flexibility for them to complete their contracted hours around home schooling. Some are starting work at 6am before the children wake or work into the evening. In doing this the team have remained productive. I have also encouraged them to use our business’s Health Assurance Scheme which provides a counselling service and undertaken regularly Risk Assessments of their work stations for suitability, positioning and eye strain. They have been encouraged to make necessary adjustments and adaptions where and when required. Your blog has been reassuring that I am doing the right things for my team.

s1804217 says:

Hi Joy, we are glad that our blog has resorted confidence in your strategies. Your methods of providing support for your team are fantastic, especially the counselling service and we hope that they adjust well with the help of the flexibility you administer.

Chris says:

As a working manager at the moment, this subject has been on my mind massively.
There is a lot of pressure to perform and hit targets atm to keep the doors open, but i believe it is still within my duty of care to stop talk and listen.
While my company has some great support and help for my team, it is down to me to let them know about it plus supporting them. From previous experience this is not something i think happens as much as it should.
There are always going to be targets to push for but in the long run i would rather use preventative measures than coping ones.
I think work can be a great escape currently, just to get out. But while there are always going to be stresses around certain jobs, I would like to think that all my staff feel supported at work, but i can’t know if they do not say anything, i would implore anyone too speak up before it’s too bad and to not feel afraid of coming forward.

s1804217 says:

Hi Chris, thank you so much for highlighting a key responsibility of yourself as a manager. We are glad that you take this issue so seriously and are actively encouraging your employees to share their concerns. It is imperative that managers understand and know how to incorporate strategies that provide adequate support for their employees, which you seem to recognise and your idea of preventative measures over coping measures is well-suited to this topic.

Dave says:

This blog has helped with putting what I am feeling into perspective. I have missed the social interaction with other employees, however, I do not want to go back to the workplace until I have been fully vaccinated which will not be until June. I am torn with wanting to return to the work place meaning regularly using Lateral Flow Testing or staying at home. My mental Wellbeing is being effected considerably and I feel overwhelmed with my role. I consider a return to work will improve my mood and general well being, however, I may be there on my own which is counter intuitive.

s1804217 says:

Hi Dave, thank you for engaging in our blog! Your concerns are exactly why we think this issue needs to be addressed as a significant priority when implementing strategies for transitioning back to work. It is a very emotionally confusing situation which managers should acknowledge.

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