Recent Government guidance recommends a ‘gradual return to the workplace over the summer’. Yet with cases rising rapidly and concern about new, more easily transmissible variants, some employees may have real anxiety about returning to the workplace or their journey to work if it involves public transport. The stage that they have reached in the vaccine programme depending on their age and underlying health will undoubtedly affect the attitude to returning to work and the confidence level in doing so.
Others may have developed mental health issues during lockdown, perhaps as a result of prolonged isolation and separation from friends and family.
According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), nearly 70% of people have felt either somewhat or very worried about the impact COVID-19 is having on their life.
As such, as businesses start to welcome back more and more employees to the workplace, they should be especially mindful of offering additional support for mental health.
How to support employees
Key elements to consider include:
- The extent to which they are need back at the workplace if at all, having regard to their vaccine programme
- The role of a manager when supporting employees and their mental wellbeing
- How to spot the signs of mental ill health
- How to start conversations and support employees in developing their own Wellness Action Plan
- Encouraging employees to talk to each other about their mental health, and how to manage an employee who may feel unable to talk
- Supporting a team member through a period of mental ill health
- How managers can support the rest of their team should one be experiencing mental ill health
- Managing absence and their return to work, when appropriate
- Approaching potential capability or disciplinary matters
The risks employers run of leaving issues untreated
Apart from the fact that a happier and healthier workforce is much more likely to be productive and effective, it is also worth keeping in mind that a number of mental health problems such as depression can qualify for the statutory protection from discrimination by reason of the protected characteristic of ‘disability’ in the Equality Act 2010.
If the illness amounts to a mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse impact on the person’s ability to carry out their day-to-day tasks, including work related tasks, then the threshold of disability is met for an employee to bring a claim. This is regardless of the length of service in employment. Moreover, compensation in successful discrimination claims is unlimited, leaving employers exposed to the knock on consequences of prolonged absence from work, in addition to the costs of arranging work cover.
However, if mental health issues can be addressed through better trained staff, clear policies and procedures and more readily supported with accessible help for mental health sufferers then, in turn, businesses can be more productive, which is good for the economy as a whole.