International Stress Awareness Week, organised by The International Stress Management Association, takes place from 2-6 November. The week aims to focus attention on putting health, happiness and wellbeing at the heart of business – objectives that are central to our own company culture.
In a recent blog about happiness at work, I emphasised the importance that businesses should place on rethinking and adapting their wellbeing strategy at this time of significant change. COVID-19 is a catalyst for us to re-evaluate well-being programmes, building upon successful existing practices, so we can continue to protect people from workplace stress in an extremely demanding situation.
COVID-19 has disrupted our routines and made everyday activities, such as work and caring for loved ones, challenging, resulting in increased stress for many people. In fact, data from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development indicates there has been a worrying drop in health and wellbeing over the last three years, and that the pandemic has exasperated the situation.
CIPD’s 2020 Good Work Index snapshot survey, carried out following the COVID-19 outbreak, indicates that forty-three per cent of workers with a mental health condition and twenty-nine per cent of those with anxiety said the pandemic has contributed to or worsened their condition. The body also emphasises the fact that, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, it was easier to distinguish work-related stress from personal worries. However, now that many employees are working from home, the boundaries are more blurred.
Now we face the further challenges of a second lockdown phase in England, while Wales and Northern Ireland are also in temporary lockdowns, and there are tightened restrictions across the UK and Ireland. So, what can we do to take care of our workforce continuing to provide essential services, and those who are on the furlough scheme? How can we ensure that we not only continue to safeguard our colleagues’ physical wellbeing against the virus, but also protect their mental health?
As an employer that has always placed the wellbeing of our colleagues at the heart of our business, we already had many established procedures to help them feel reassured and valued. Our Employee Assistance Programme, for example, has been in place for many years, offering 24/7 access to a trusted, compassionate health and wellbeing counselling service. We know that this service can really make a difference to those that are struggling, either with workplace stress or pressures at home, and we continue to urge all of our teams to take full advantage of this provision during these difficult times.
Our ‘mental health first-aiders’ have been keeping in touch with our colleagues that aren’t currently working on-site, contacting them once a week to ensure they still feel part of the company. We’re consistently checking how they are coping and discussing ways we can support them, from offering reassurance about their position to motivating them to support their local community through volunteering.
We have also tried to ease the financial burden that furlough brings, by trying to bridge the gap between the government funding and their usual wage. We do not underestimate the impact that losing 20% to 30% income overnight can have, which is why we have put provisions in place to ensure that, where possible, almost all of our colleagues still receive 100% pay whilst on this leave of absence.
We have also set up an Inspirational Toolkit, which has tips from colleagues, and practical advice to guide people through this challenging time. The online resource features a raft of support tools, from training modules on working together virtually, and mindfulness, to working from home and wellbeing advice. The pandemic has made us focus on the things that are important to us, personally as well as professionally. Many of our colleagues have provided short video clips with tips about how they have managed lockdown and the more recently introduced restrictions.
We must continue to consider what additional actions need to be taken to support people during the pandemic, and the ever-evolving situation. We also need to address what a healthy work-life balance might look like further down the line and the possible changes we could make to future working practices. Most importantly, it is vital that those suffering from stress continue to be supported and know where to go to seek help and advice.
Jan Hein Hemke
Managing Director at Facilicom UK & Ireland