Since March 2020, the world of work has changed significantly for all of us, social distancing, working from home, remote meetings, and furlough. The most recent announcement from the UK government is that those who can, should be working from home again. The suggestion is that these measures could continue for another six months or even longer.
A constantly evolving situation like the coronavirus outbreak brings about change and uncertainty which impacts employee wellbeing. Employers should think about doing all they can to support the physical, psychological, social, and financial health and wellbeing of their employees.
What are the issues and what can be done?
During the outbreak, the need for some services has drastically fallen, however demand for others such as healthcare or online shopping/deliveries has grown significantly. Employees in these industries may not face the possibility of job losses and associated financial hardships but may experience stress caused by increased working hours or fear of possible infection during their work, this may negatively impact their physical and mental wellbeing.
Other workers have been thrust into homeworking, something they may not have done at all in the past, or if so, maybe infrequently. For some, this has created significant barriers to support and impacted relationships between peers and line management.
Many of us have now been working from home for 6 months with this set to continue for another six or more months. There are the obvious ergonomic factors that need addressing but there are lesser considered factors such as work intensity, isolation, and lack of support for these homeworkers. Simple steps such as organising remote social gatherings and ensuring that managers have regular catch-ups with their reports will ensure employees feel adequately supported.
Fear of the virus
Each individual’s level of fear of the virus will differ and may be related to personal circumstances, for example whether they or their close family members have underlying health conditions which puts them at high risk.
Carrying out and implementing the findings from a COVID risk assessment for premises where staff will be working, providing clear and consistent communications, and providing staff with more flexible working arrangements (if possible) can help to allay these fears.
Employees may have friends, family or even colleagues who were furloughed from work, and have therefore been able to spend more time with their children, work on their houses/gardens, engage in hobbies or even express feeling bored. This can lead to feelings of resentment or even anger.
Ensuring there are robust and transparent furlough policies and good management of workloads of people who aren’t furloughed can help reduce resentment amongst those who are ‘left behind’ and ensures employees have their usual rest times from work.
Social (spatial) distancing
Social distancing as a term may be misleading as social interactions are important for employee wellbeing, the true requirement is for spatial distancing i.e. remaining 2 metres from others (or 1 metre plus other mitigation measures). But this spatial distancing may have a negative effect dependent on how it is implemented. Safely implemented social interaction at work has a huge benefit on wellbeing versus working in isolation.
These uncertain times can be hard on employers if they lose business which impacts employee salary, tips, bonuses and working hours. Employers should ensure they remain up to date on available government support for the business and are aware of where to direct employees for financial help and support, such as the government’s worker support pages or advisory services such as the Money Advice Service, and most employee assistance programmes provide confidential financial advice.
What happens after you’re ‘COVID secure’?
Communication is key. Employers should, by now, have carried out a COVID risk assessment for premises that their employees work in, this in itself isn’t the end of the process as employees will need to be consulted on the results of the assessment and allowed to give their feedback on any concerns they may have.
It may be necessary to carry out individual assessments for employees who are unable to work from home, particularly people considered to be at higher risk from serious illness if they become infected. The government’s updated guidance also advises that a person’s journey, caring responsibilities, protected characteristics, and other individual circumstances should also be taken into account when considering who needs to physically be in the workplace.
The requirements of any wellbeing strategy (with or without the presence of coronavirus) will depend entirely on the demographic of your workforce and understanding your employees needs and concerns, which can be established by surveying employees to determine and develop interventions to improve their overall wellbeing.
We are here to help! If you need any advice on employee wellbeing or COVID-19 risk assessments,please get in touch.