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Protecting Your Employees’ Mental Health

Protecting Your Employees’ Mental Health
08 April 2020
 

April is Stress Awareness Month, and people working across every industry are experiencing a significant increase in pressure.

Flexible working campaigner Anna Whitehouse shared this poignant message on her social media channels yesterday:

“You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work”

Dealing with the worry of the pandemic, alongside pressures of managing family issues and working from home, our mental health and wellbeing is being challenged in many different ways.

"Control what you can and accept what you can’t. Whether you’re the employer or the employee there will be elements you can control and some you can’t.  Focus your energy on what is within your influence, on what you can do"

–Cathy Connan

Member of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP)  

 

What should you be doing by law for your employees?

 

Global law firm Clyde & Co has set out some practical steps to help employers understand their health and safety duties regarding work-related stress. The advice has been co-written by Nathan Buckley, Legal Director at Clyde and Co LLP, and Dr Libby Artingstall and Dr Sile McDaid, Co-Founders and Directors of Team Mental Health.

Their advice suggests that, although such H&S processes may be considered time-consuming or even not a priority at this time, such reviews are more important than ever and must not be overlooked.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”. When it is prolonged, work-related stress can lead to mental health illnesses, as well as physical conditions.

No matter the size of your business, the law requires all employers to assess the risk of work-related stress and put steps in place to tackle those risks. This could be either by removing the risk or reducing it as far as reasonably practicable, as per Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The HSE's position is that work-related stress should be treated as any other workplace hazard. 

 

Practical steps

 

Clyde & Co make the following suggestions for business leaders:

  • Ensure you and your team get regular, adequate breaks and rest periods
  • Consider rotating people between roles with the aim of limiting the same people picking up high-stress workloads over prolonged periods of time. Implement a buddy system to ensure those who are less experienced, or who are struggling, feel supported by senior colleagues
  • Ensure and maintain a culture of openness and transparency. Keep your team up to date with important information. Good communication helps staff feel valued, increases a sense of community and belonging, and can reduce stress

 

A psychotherapists’ view

 

Cathy Connan, a member of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)  and the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) offered some general tips on managing our own, and our employees, mental health.

She said: “Our world has changed. With huge questions hanging in the air about our physical health and our economic future, it’s unsurprising anxiety is on the increase. 

“The government’s mantra is Stay at Home. Simple and clear. But they go on to say, if you can’t work from home, go to work and follow social distancing guidelines.  Almost by definition, this introduces uncertainty, leaving individuals and businesses facing, what feel like impossible choices. 

“On top of all this, humans are social animals.  We are heathier, more resilient when we are in contact with others, particularly those we love and are close to.  But social distancing and self-isolation are the buzzwords. “

Connan offers a few simple steps to help maintain our mental wellbeing:

 

  • Communicate with colleagues.  Video conference regularly, even if it’s just to check in. We need more not less communication right now
  • Control what you can and accept what you can’t. Whether you’re the employer or the employee there will be elements you can control and some you can’t. Focus your energy on what is within your influence, on what you can do
  • Take some time to establish what’s possible and what’s expected of people working from home. With young children and other demands on our time, working from home is not as easy as it sounds. For the wellbeing of both, employers and employees need clarity
  • Stay active. Our bodies are integral to our mental wellbeing so find some time to keep moving. Take advantage of the Government advice and go out for a walk or a run once a day
  • Look up. It’s easy in an environment like this for our focus to shrink to the fears and terrors of our own world.  We can feel trapped.  If this happens to you, try to look up and look out. Go outside into your garden or open a window.  Look at the birds and squirrels, the breeze in the trees or bushes
  • When the anxiety rises, reduce the stress. Notice and regulate your breathing.  Breathe in for a count of five and breathe out for five and repeat for a few minutes

Picture: April is Stress Awareness Month, and people working across every industry are experiencing a significant increase in pressure.

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 08 April 2020

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