Management of employees mental health during Covid-19 outbreak. Guidance for HR Professionals

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A lot has been written about the management and prevention of harm to physical health during this Coronavirus outbreak, but we are now being approached by clients who are reporting raised incidences of mental ill health because of the situation.


This is not surprising. Even to those with commonly good mental health this an unnerving and scary situation.


By now the management and prevention of physical health is clear. We wash hands, be aware of potential signs of illness, isolate, and seek medical support if necessary.


But what should we be looking for in our teams as regards mental ill health ? Who is at risk, what could the triggers be, and how can we manage and improve their conditions ?





Employees with pre existing conditions.


Anxiety and OCD

Be aware of is the triggering effect for people with pre-existing OCD traits and anxiety disorders. If you are already aware of staff who suffer from these conditions it is worthwhile making time to check in with them personally or via their line manager.

a) Have the conversations in 1:1 situations ‘How are you feeling about...’

b) Recognise these fears are very real to that person

c) That you hear them and steer them towards support whether their own current MH professionals, or online support for their concerns. (See below)

d) Reassure them that the medical information is that most everyone will be fine, even if they catch it.

ANXIETY

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/self-care-for-anxiety/

OCD

https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/2943/ocd-2019.pdf



Depression

Even someone who does not normally suffer with depression could be stressed by the situation to the extent where they might show signs of depression. If someone already has a depressive disorder there is a good chance this might be a trigger for them.

The symptoms of depression are :


Psychological symptoms

The psychological symptoms of depression include:

  • continuous low mood or sadness feeling hopeless and helpless having low self-esteem

  • feeling tearful feeling guilt-ridden

  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others

  • having no motivation or interest in things

  • finding it difficult to make decisions not getting any enjoyment out of life

  • feeling anxious or worried

  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself


Physical symptoms

The physical symptoms of depression include:

  • moving or speaking more slowly than usual

  • changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)

  • unexplained aches and pains lack of energy disturbed sleep – for example, finding it difficult to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning


Social symptoms

The social symptoms of depression include:

  • avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities

  • neglecting your hobbies and interests

  • having difficulties in your home, work or family life


Depression actions.


  • Be alert to changes in behaviour in your teams.

  • If concerned about someones MH signpost to existing MH professionals, their GP or NHS 111. This service will be heavily subscribed during the outbreak so an approach to the GP is best.

  • Use 1:1’s to ask the question about their mood.

  • 1:1’s don’t have to be formalised sit downs. Increase the frequency of 1:1’s of and use them as a preventative measures where you can reassure staff of your companies approach to the outbreak, and emphasise that you are there for them.


Stress

There will be increased stress in peoples lives due to the outbreak.

There will also be increased stresses in the workplace. These stressors are, but not exclusively, as follows.


Financial

People will be concerned about what happens if they are laid off, have reduced hours, are forced to go onto statutory sick pay.


Action

You must not and cannot promise something that isn’t, or can’t be delivered. Your company will have its own plan in action for this and you must simply communicate it as thoughtfully as possible. Highlight the Governmental support for those struggling financially - emphasise that though this incident is happening now it will not last forever and that you understand how difficult the circumstances are. Know where your local food banks are, and the details for Gov support outlined here :

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19



Short Staffed - Increased Workload


The issue needs no explanation - whatever your industry is.


I can’t emphasise enough the need for increased 1:1 conversations during this period. Line managers should be using every opportunity to have those short interactions that show concern, check wellbeing, and show appreciation.


These periods of increased workload, which we’ve all had for various reasons in the past, are tough but can also be periods where the true company ‘spirit’ is ignited, and staff morale can be boosted.


In my youth I made it in for a shift in a McDonalds in South London, where most everyone didn’t get through due to heavy snow. The customers hadn’t got the note and we ran the store on 5-7 staff from 7am-11pm. I would never want to work that day again, but my memory of it is all about camaraderie - ‘we few’ who made it through, supported by an excellent manager who checked in and supported us individually throughout the day.


These times of stress are also an opportunity if that genuine support is shown.



This is not a time for line managers to be locked into company issues. The team must come first.



We will come out the other side of this, but it might not be pretty for a while.


As HR professionals your workload has already gone through the roof. Please, please look after each other. Do that in your workspaces, and if you work alone please make sure you get support from others out there in cyber space.


If you are feeling low, or if your anxiety is through the roof, please share that.


I was told once ‘we are only as sick as our secrets’.


It's true. There is no medal for singlehanded combat where you go down sight unseen.


Stay close to your tribe and support them back.


You got this.

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