Dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on staff mental health

By Kam White, Head of People and Culture, Hotwire.

For many of us, the last few weeks have seen mental health concerns brought into sharp focus, as businesses – and their staff – adapt to the ‘new normal’.

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week comes at a time where employee mental health is under intense pressure, and how employers support their teams through COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the long-term health and success of the business.

Thoughtful Working forms a cornerstone of the Hotwire Employee Value Proposition. This philosophy centres on trust in the individual to work smartly and deliver outputs – in the location and at the times which work best for them – and this has not changed just because we are all at home.

For many businesses, adapting to remote working was one of the biggest hurdles posed by the COVID-19 crisis, but for Hotwire, we were able to make that transition seamlessly as our teams and systems were already set up to accommodate this. It is important to remember however that these are not normal circumstances; teams are not simply ‘working from home’, but doing this against the backdrop of an unprecedented global pandemic for an indeterminate period.

Understandably, there is far more going on in employee’s lives other than work right now and it is essential that employers are sensitive to this.

Those businesses which have a robust wellbeing culture which trust and support individuals within the team will be best placed to weather this storm.

At Hotwire, we have always had a proactive approach to employee wellbeing, with strong focus on developing two-way trust and supporting the individual whatever their personal circumstances. This culture, combined with our Thoughtful Working Policy allowed us to adapt quickly to the changing circumstances brought about by the global pandemic. Our philosophy centres around a preventative culture – rather than reacting when people need support, we do our part to stop people ending up in that situation in the first place. This means encouraging people to be open about their mental health without any stigma, but also that work itself is not a cause of stress.

Here are some tips on how employers can promote employee wellbeing not just during the current situation, but all year round.

Provide supporting materials

In a recent survey, the number of Brits worried about the effect of the lockdown on mental health peaked at 43%. With this in mind, it is likely that many members of staff will be going through a tough time right now. At Hotwire, we encourage our staff to feel empowered to speak openly about mental health and seek support from line managers and our trained Mental Health First Aiders where needed. All employees also have 24/7 access to a Mental Health Toolkit. This includes a number of resources that all employees can access including helplines, useful tips, articles, podcasts and a free download of the Headspace app.

Encourage a healthy work/life balance

With people having to spend unprecedented amounts of time at home, the boundaries between work and life can become blurred, so as an employer, Hotwire has actively encouraged our teams to seek balance and switch off.

We recommend teams take regular screen breaks, take a walk at lunchtime, and log off on time to take their daily exercise. We have also provided advice on how to run meetings more efficiently to prevent meeting fatigue and promote wellbeing. As a company, we provide yoga classes with a professional teacher, which used to take place at the office, but now happen bi-weekly via Zoom! We also encourage our employees to download the Headspace app to provide them with access to meditation techniques which they can implement to help manage stress levels.

Thoughtful working

It is important to recognise that life doesn’t always fit the 9-5 office hours. We engage in Thoughtful Working, and encourage everyone to work in the best possible way for our clients, our team and ourselves, every single day. Our Thoughtful Working proposition hasn’t just changed because we’re all currently working from home.  Staff should be able to work smartly and be trusted to deliver outputs – if that means they need time out to work in and around their wellbeing they can – as long as they are thoughtful about their clients and teams.

Be there for your staff, when it matters most

It is important that staff feel they have someone to talk to across the business. You may want to train other members of staff across roles on mental health first aid. This helps promote a culture of openness where those struggling with mental health can identify someone who can help them, but also that all of us can spot someone struggling with mental health and step in to support them before it starts impacting their work. We have professionally trained several mental health first aiders as specialists to help anyone who may be struggling, and encourage all team members to look out for each other to ensure those in need are empowered to access the support they need.

Bring your whole self to work

Times are tough right now and there is no denying that it will be a long time until we get back to our ordinary lives. So it is key that in the meantime, we are all supported by our colleagues and employers as we navigate this global crisis. Last year, Hotwire released a ‘Bring your whole self to work’ booklet, which revealed the mental health struggles that many of our own staff have overcome. This aims to lift the stigma around the mental health conversation and encourage a culture of openness and support.

Look out for your staff and colleagues and check in with teams as much as possible. Although your colleagues may feel distant at this time, regular Zoom ‘check-ins’ can help replicate that human connection. There has never been a better time to implement a mental health programme and to ensure your staff feel fully supported in these challenging times.

Kam White is the head of people and culture at Hotwire for EMEA and Australia. In her role, Kam is focused on developing people strategies, driving cultural change initiatives and organisational transformation programs across the business.

Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash

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