Whilst employers have a duty to assess workplace stressors and put in place suitable controls, I would imagine that many employers would also want to provide support where they can to help their employees with stressors.
Before Christmas I went out for a drive to the coast, to my old stomping ground and took a bit of a detour home via the Beachy Head Road. I had a sobering thought whilst enjoying my drive, I wondered how many people had reached breaking point. I was shocked to find that there were 5,691 suicides in England and Wales in 2019. With 2020 being such a tough year, with job loses, businesses failing, record levels of loneliness and major uncertainties, I suspect that this figure will have risen. But this isn’t just about the loss of life, but the other ways that people cope such as self-harm, alcohol and substance abuse or people retreating from family and friends. In these cases, it can be hard to spot that they aren’t coping.
Mental health awareness has been increasing year on year recently, many great initiatives are now in place in organisations. 2020 was a shocker, to put it mildly, I would implore employers not to lose sight of what they can to help their employees in these difficult times and, if not in place already, introduce mental health awareness initiatives or reinvigorate what you already have in place.
So here are some of suggestions for things that employers can do to help:
- If you have an employee assistance programme, make sure that all employees know the details and how to make contact, and if you don’t, signpost people to organisations who may be able to help, like the Samaritans, the Citizen Advice Bureau or family doctors.
- Make sure that you keep up with your employee’s 1:1s and that employees and managers, know that everyone is there to give support to each other. I think this is particularly important for employees who are working remotely.
- Complete or review your organisation wide stress risk assessment. When reviewing an existing assessment, consider how things have changed since the pandemic, are people working remotely, are there fewer staff in the office and how has this impacted on their workload, how are you managing the flow of information to employees? If you are completing your assessment from scratch, I would suggest that you look on the HSE stress microsite for guidance.
- Review your stress and wellbeing policy and procedures to make sure that they still work, considering your new ways of working. Make sure that the employees responsible have the right resources at home. If employees do need to use the procedure, consider whether they have easy access to telephone numbers for your HR team if they are working from home.
- If you have not done so already, consider giving some training to a team of employees on mental health first aid in your organisation, this can be a great resource in identifying employees who are struggling.
- Produce a monthly newsletter about the organisation and the people who work in it. Our monthly newsletter keeps us informed about our colleagues and good news stories that we would normally be hearing about in the office, such as people getting engaged, passing an exam or getting a promotion. The sharing of this type of information is important to help the team feel like a team and to help employees feel less isolated. It also helps you to remember that it isn’t all bad news out there!
- Have an online team catch up on a Friday morning over a coffee and a bacon sarnie or early Friday evening over a cheeky G&T. This allows employees who have been working from home to have that ‘wash up’ that we used to do in the office on a Friday. It also helps people to still feel bonded as a team.
- Wellbeing challenges, like competitions for taking the most steps in a month. Reminding employees to take a walk outside each day in the daylight is good for their wellbeing and maybe there could be a prize, like a fitness tracker for the most steps taken each month? This would be something that you can add to your newsletter.
Do think about being kind to other people. Someone in your organisation could be trying really hard not to fall apart. When talking to your colleagues on the phone, in the office or online, make sure you take the time to ask them how they are.
I know that kindness and consideration isn’t going to fix the problems that people have, but I do honestly think that showing that you care, can help them if they are feeling lonely. Also, if employees have been told about the support that is out there, it can point them towards organisations who can help.
I believe that we all, employers and employees, have a part to play, so I would ask, whatever type of January you are planning on having, a dry one, a vegan one, let’s all commit to having a kind one.