By Sandra McLellan, founder of hr inspire
With the UK’s third lockdown still in force, employee mental health and wellbeing remains top of the agenda for many small businesses which are used to having a close-knit team in the office. The concern over employee wellbeing is magnified by the issues of many employees working longer hours at home, presenteeism on the rise and parents who have also had to struggle with home schooling for many weeks.
While children may be returning to schools, many uncertainties will still exist for some months as children may need to self-isolate at any time. The result is still a UK workforce at risk of feeling burnt out, demotivated and unproductive. Yet businesses need employees to be fully energised more than ever, to take the business through the end of lockdown and beyond.
The following tips will help ensure employees working from home stay engaged, motivated and supported.
Understand individual circumstances
The ongoing lockdown rules are impacting people’s work and personal lives. With the government’s instruction to still work from home if possible, have weekly ‘wellbeing’ discussions to check how this is affecting employees’ personal circumstances, their workload and capacity.
Consider and discuss their circumstances – are they working longer hours than expected and taking regular breaks? Is their home environment suitable for home working, or are they juggling other caring responsibilities? If so, how are they coping?
Encourage them to share any anxieties. Do these as video calls as much as possible as you can tell a lot from body language, and work with them to develop support solutions that address anxieties and support their wellbeing and health.
Tailor employee support
Home working is not for everyone and even those who enjoy it may find themselves feeling disconnected or “out of the loop” at times. Recent research by Aviva found that introverts and young workers are those most in need of support from employers. The study found that introverts are currently most concerned about job security, while under-25s are most likely to feel some form of anxiety.
Take your insight from your weekly ‘wellbeing’ calls and combine this with understanding the different personalities and individual needs within your team to work out with them what their specific requirements are. If they are more extroverted and miss the personal interaction, encourage virtual social ‘meet-ups’ over video. Perhaps buddy them up with another colleague for regular virtual coffee breaks?
Consider working parents
Zurich introduced two weeks’ fully paid ‘lockdown leave’ for parents and carers facing childcare emergencies. It’s a great initiative, but likely to be unaffordable for many small businesses. But just being understanding and flexible can also really support working parents and carers, such as letting employees work different hours around childcare.
If work demands are widely unmet, there are alternative temporary options such as taking holiday, unpaid leave or furloughing those already in the furlough scheme, but this should be the last resort.
Spot the signs
According to research by Wade Macdonald, 28 per cent of employees claim their mental health has declined due to the pandemic so it’s important to be aware of the signs. Are they regularly late or failing to attend scheduled calls and meetings? Are they irritable or angry? Has the tone of their emails altered? Or their appearance changed, such as looking unkempt or losing weight quickly?
Keep track of any employee’s absenteeism, and if they very rarely or never turn on their video during calls, check to find out why. Encouraging them to talk openly about their struggles is key and listen without judgement.
There are many HR and wellbeing tools to encourage team collaboration, improve motivation and engagement and support good mental health. For example, the Virtual Coffee Machine app from Powell Software generates regular meeting invites within Teams to encourage employees to take time out of work for a social chat with colleagues over a virtual coffee.
Microsoft is also due to launch a Virtual Commute app which allows employees to use the time they would have normally spent travelling for emotional check-ins and mindfulness time. Research what tools there are available to match your budget and workforce needs, and embrace the benefits.
It may be that your business has already made observations of how employees coped during the past lockdowns. Combining lessons learnt with the five steps above will ensure that your business is providing the support employees need to stay mentally positive and well motivated through the remainder of lockdown and beyond.