2020 has been a year like no other. As we saw 2019 out, raised our glasses to a new year, new opportunities and expectation; little did we know what 2020 would bring. The COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 one of the most challenging years this generation will (hopefully) ever face. From job security fears, money worries and anxiety to the impact of lockdown, social distancing and the loss of loved ones: the coronavirus has had a knock-on effect on our mental health as a nation.
The mental health of the British public is suffering in this time of uncertainty, changing restrictions and social distancing. Research by leading mental health charity, Mind found that 60% of adults said their mental health has deteriorated during lockdown.
In this period of heightened anxiety, and with a lack of personal contact with loved ones and access to therapists and counsellors somewhat restricted; it begs the question, can technology be a good enough replacement for human interaction?
As an employer, your duty of care for your employees extends to supporting their mental health and wellbeing while they are at work. In this COVID-19 world, we must look to modern methods to promote good mental health and encourage self-care – especially if your team is still remote.
Where businesses have successfully pivoted to a ‘new normal’ of remote working, technology has played a crucial role in allowing employees to remain in their jobs and maintain some sense of normality. And yet, the ongoing discussion around technology’s impact on our health is overwhelmingly negative – both physically and mentally. It is fair to say technology doesn’t get the best rep when it comes to safeguarding our mental health and wellbeing. But in these increasingly virtual times, could technology be used to support employee mental health, especially while working from home is the norm?
In this blog, we share some of the ways that you can use technology to support employee mental health.
Provide online resources on mental health
Many employers provide thorough guidance on maintaining health and safety at work, yet not as many provide their employees with comprehensive resources on mental health and wellbeing. What’s more, the methods or advisory services recommended in the past may not be available or accessible right now.
You may choose to curate a repository of resources, documentation and services that are stored in a central HR system that all employees can access at any time. This is particularly helpful if employees feel anxious about discussing their struggles with a team member or manager.
As employers, it is crucial that you create a working environment that is supportive and one where your employees feel able to talk openly about their mental health. This is particularly important as employees continue to be separated from their colleagues and normal methods of communication may no longer be feasible. A poster on the wall in your canteen with information about mental health support services is pointless if your team are working from home.
Allow colleagues to maintain social connections
Technology and the internet facilitate social connections. From sitting on Zoom calls with colleagues to FaceTiming friends and family; technology has the power to connect us with individuals across the globe.
We spend over a third of our lives at work; it is often where lifelong relationships are formed. Where your employees may have been used to heading out for lunch together, going to the pub after work for drinks or even having a chat over their morning coffee; much of this is now impossible due to coronavirus restrictions.
As an employer, provide your team with the ability and freedom to spend time with their colleagues. Zoom lunches, virtual tea breaks or even Friday afternoon drinks can help your team to maintain their relationships with their peers outside of work and keeps them connected to your business.
Maintaining communication with your employees through technology could protect from mental health issues as they “support and enable social interaction and connection” according to research published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research: Mental Health.
Stay connected to your workers
Following on from the previous point, staying connected to your employees – as their employer – is crucial to their mental health. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees across the nation have been furloughed, made redundant, had hours cut, been consulted for redundancy – and they’ve had to deal with the very real fact that the coronavirus is changing life as we know it.
Research by Cogito Talent found that a staggering 45% of employees have had no contact from their employer during the furlough period.
Imagine being placed on furlough in March and not hearing from your employer since. This would be incredibly stressful for anyone, but for those with existing mental health issues; this radio silence could be crippling – particularly if they live alone with no support network. While unable to physically carry out work for your business, involve your furloughed staff in virtual social events, check in with them regularly and keep them connected to your business with news, updates and developments.
Provide remote access to mental health resources
Many employers already provide Employee Assistance Programmes (also known as EAPs). These provide a platform for your employees to interact with qualified professionals and seek advice on most issues that impact their health and wellbeing.
From personal problems and mental health support to work-related problems; EAPs are intended to help employees to deal with any issues that may adversely impact their work performance and overall health and wellbeing.
Most offer free counselling, mental health resources and information around the clock. Providing a platform for your employees to seek help from qualified professionals can be the first step into receiving the support they need for any mental health issues they are experiencing. These virtual or telephone appointments are free of charge to the employee and complete anonymised to employers. What’s more, EAPs provide an avenue of support when other services may be unavailable.
Helpful websites and resources
We have compiled a list of helpful resources, advice and information about how employers can better support their employees’ mental health at work.
– Mental Health at Work: a comprehensive repository of documents, guides, tips, videos, courses, podcasts, templates and information, all aimed at helping you get to grips with workplace mental health
– CIPD Mental Health Factsheet: an overview of mental health issues in the workplace
– Mental Health in the Workplace: advice and guidance for employers and employees from Mind, the mental health charity