The first national lockdown was starting to become a distant memory but, as coronavirus cases began to rise across the country, a second lockdown became almost inevitable. Following Lockdown 2 beginning on 5 November 2020, Sarah Lee looks at the impact on people’s mental health and how you, as an employer, might be able to support them.
Lockdown 2 will not be the same as the first lockdown. In some ways, it may be easier, as it is not the full-scale lockdown that we experienced from March to July. A key (and very welcome) difference is that schools are still open, relieving some of the pressure on parents who had to both home-school and work from home.
However, in other ways, Lockdown 2 may be more challenging. As we head into winter, the days become shorter and the weather worsens, many people will be stuck inside for longer periods and some may also experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Whilst the first lockdown did, of course, impact mental health, the sun and the summer heatwave certainly played a part in keeping people’s spirits up, as people enjoyed exercising and spending time outside.
In addition, those who struggled during the first lockdown may be even more badly affected by the prospect of experiencing another.
Some of the learnings and experiences from the first lockdown, including resilience, may help people cope with the second. However, with 45% of adults saying their wellbeing has been affected by COVID-19 (ONS), employers must carefully consider how they can support staff effectively over the coming months. The following ideas may be useful:
- Be proactive and keep engaging with staff: ask your team how they prefer to be communicated with, check in regularly with them and deal with any concerns they may have. Having a conversation with someone can make a huge difference to their mood and make them feel valued by their employer which, in turn, creates good employee relations.
- Set realistic workloads and objectives: consider what productivity is realistic for your employees, taking into account their personal circumstances and commitments (e.g. childcare) and ensure that employees understand what tasks they should be working on and any expected timescales and standards. If you notice performance issues or a drop in productivity, talk to staff and ask how they’re feeling.
- Risk assessments: Conduct risk assessments in order to identify potential causes of work-related stress and put extra support measures in place. Even before COVID-19, almost 13 million workdays were lost due to stress and depression, so employers must avoid placing undue stress on employees during these unprecedented times.
- Employee Assistance Programmes: Remind employees of your EAP if you have one in place. If not, consider investing in this.
- Mental health first aiders: Many companies’ HR teams or other designated employees have been trained as mental health first aiders, so that there is someone for employees to talk to and discuss their struggles and fears confidentially (although you should make clear that mental health first aiders might need to inform a senior manager if they believe an employee is at risk). Investing in something like this goes a long way to make employees feel valued. (Do make sure that you are looking after and supporting your mental health first aiders though, who are likely to be under additional pressure.)
- Awareness and training: Ensure managers understand possible mental health issues, giving them simple training where possible. Managers should also be instructed not to send emails to employees “out of hours” as that will place further pressure on employees.
- Establish peer support networks, e.g. using Microsoft Teams to ensure peers are having regular conversations.
We will be hosting bitesize events throughout 2020 and into early 2021 to help businesses navigate the challenges of the pandemic as well as other key legal developments.
On 26 November from 09:30 until 10:30, join Sarah Lee and Heyma Holmes as they explore how best to manage employees suffering with poor mental health. To book your free place, click here.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.