The latest Wellbeing report from CIPD highlights the fact that “employers need to increase mental health support during these difficult times”. It emphasises that employers should be investing resources now in preventing mental ill health. This message is particularly poignant in the light of Coronavirus, as the report also comments that the majority of managers were already falling to successfully support staff with mental health issues even before the crisis began.
Staff will be reacting differently to the Coronavirus situation with some staff enjoying the opportunity to spend more time with the family and more time at home. Some staff, however, will be feeling overwhelmed with the changes and the threat of coronavirus. In addition those staff members who were experiencing mental health issues before Coronavirus will be particularly vulnerable now and potentially need more support.
How do you Spot the Early Warning Signs with Virtual Staff?
When you do not see staff on a regular basis, it is much more difficult to spot the early warning signs that indicate a staff member may be experiencing reduced mental health or a mental health condition. There are things, however, that managers can continue to do to support staff mental health in these difficult times.
1, Keep in Touch with Feelings
I am sure that managers will be keeping in regular touch with staff working from home but as well as talking about how work is going, they will need to make an extra effort to find out how staff are really feeling and whether they are coping or if they need additional support. Don’t just ask staff ‘how they are’ because they will tell you that they are fine, which is what we all tend to do. It is almost like a conditioned response and this is partly because we assume that the person asking the question is just being polite and does not actually want to know how we are. Get to know your staff members better and build trust so that they are comfortable talking to you. Ask them how they are really feeling and encourage them to tell you. Use open ended non-judgemental questions, so don’t ask them how they are coping with the workload, ask them how they feel about working from home. Ask them about the advantages and disadvantages as this might give you more of an insight into what they are coping with and where you may need to help them.
2, Listen out for the Negatives
Some of your staff will be optimists, some will be pessimists, and some will waiver between the two but if they are unusually negative, then this could indicate that they are struggling. Listen to the words that the staff member uses. Are there a lot of negative words e.g. can’t, won’t etc? Listen to the tone of what the employee says. What type of mood does it convey e.g. sad, angry, frustrated, happy? Does the employee seem happy and hopeful compared to their usual mood or do they seem less hopeful? Feeling afraid in the current circumstances is perfectly normal and you should reassure staff that most people are feeling anxious and frightened and that it is ok to feel like this, as long as they feel that they are able to manage these emotions,
3, Remind Them of the Support That is Available
Remind them of any support that they can access through the organisation e.g. is there an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) that can offer counselling or is there any practical advice to cope with debt or relationship issues? Do you have helpful information and resources on your intranet, that staff can access? Remind them also that they can still contact their GP although the appointment will be over the phone, which might make it easier for some staff members to talk about how they are feeling. Remind them also that you are there for them and that you will support them with any aspects of the work that they are struggling with.
4, Encourage Regular Virtual Team Meetings
I am sure that most managers have put a series of virtual meetings in the diary, but it would be good to encourage staff to hold virtual meetings without you, so that they can act as a resource to each other. You are not going to be available all the time to support your staff, so you need them to be able to help each other, to some extent. Try and make it fun, encourage them to ‘lunch’ together or ‘have a coffee’ together as this will hopefully get them talking and sharing. During the meetings where you are present, encourage staff to talk about strategies they have found to help them cope. This will help staff members with fewer coping resources learn new ways of coping with this uncertain. situation. Equally, share anything useful that you have tried or learned about.
5, Lower Your Expectations: Cut Your Staff Some Slack
It is unrealistic to expect people to deliver at the same level as previously when they are working from home. They will probably have access to fewer resources than they would have done in the workplace. Equally many work tasks will probably take longer, given the current delays to services/accessing the right people etc and slower internet in some instances. Staff will be juggling their domestic challenges, with the kids at home and possibly a partner as well, all fighting for the computer desk. Your staff will be doing the best that they can, under the circumstances, concentrate on looking after their wellbeing and the productivity will follow.
If you have any questions about staff wellbeing, ask me a question and I will do my best to help.