Supporting your staff's mental wellbeing during COVID-19 and beyond

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and change, the role of a leader has never been more crucial. We spoke to Catriona Davies of Resolution Mediation Scotland, who has years of supporting companies to provide mental wellbeing within teams, for some top tips and resources to help leaders and managers.

Guide

5 min read

1. I’m just their manager – What’s their mental health to do with me?

As a leader and manager, particularly during these ever-changing times, it is important that you are fully aware of your role in supporting your staff’s mental wellbeing. Employees will experience stressors to their mental health, in a wide variety of ways – even more so in the current pandemic, as each member of staff will have individual family circumstances. We know that workplace stress is the physical response, when there is a poor balance between job demands and the resources and capabilities of the employee. Concern for the welfare of your staff is a key feature of any great leader, as it creates a supportive working environment that ensures your teams are happy and productive. In addition, it is worth noting that in 2018/19 12.8 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety (Labour Force Survey 2019).

2. What causes workplace stress?

  • Excessively high workload, with unrealistic deadlines, leading staff to feel under pressure
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Staff feeling that they have a lack of control over their workload or activities
  • Staff being asked to carry out tasks which they do not have the required experience or skills
  • An uncomfortable physical working environment – poor seating or workspace layout, high levels of noise, inadequate equipment etc
  • Job insecurity
  • Feeling unsupported or a lack of good working relationships, leading to a sense of isolation
  • Poor leadership or conflicts with management styles

When you consider the above list, it is clear that a number of these areas may be more prevalent for your staff in the current pandemic. In addition, the pandemic affects us all and therefore there may be a cumulative effect, creating a culture of stress within the workplace, severely impacting productivity and the welfare of your teams.

3. How do I recognise the signs of workplace stress?

Learning to understand the signs of workplace stress will help you understand how different people exhibit stress and how it affects their mental health. Fundamentally what’s noticeable about stress or a change in the mental wellbeing of a member of staff is a change in the behaviour of an employee. Below are a range of indicators that may be a signal of an employee having their mental health impacted.

  • Reduced quality of work or an increase in errors
  • Increased sick leave
  • Incomplete projects
  • Consistently seeming fatigued or over tired
  • Being vague or seeming unfocussed
  • Increased irritability or conflict with others
  • Seeming unmotivated or disinterested in work
  • Altering work patterns – replying to emails late or early in the morning

Of course, all members of staff are individual, which is why it is crucial to take the time to get to know each member of your team, so you can spot the signs on an individual level. Of course, as their manager or leader it is not that there is an expectation that you act as a counsellor or mental health professional. However, you do have a duty of care and responsibility for their wellbeing and performance in work. The best approach is to be proactive, by reducing the risks of your employees becoming stressed and ensuring that your team feel able to discuss any issues with you, that may be concerning them.

4. A member of my team has disclosed a mental health issue – what do I do?

The first step is to ensure you encourage the employee to discuss their health and any concerns relating to work they may have. Arrange a confidential online meeting with them, so you have a face to face discussion. Explain what support may be available through the Company and perhaps create an action plan of how the member of staff will be supported. It is important to be aware, that once any health or disability information is disclosed by an employee, as an employer you have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to their work, to support the member of staff recover and be well. This is the case whether or not the employee has a medical diagnosis.

5. What support can I provide to my staff just now?

In addition to being aware of the wellbeing of your team and taking action when you have concerns that a member of your team is struggling, there are a number of wider actions that you can take, to support the whole team.

  • Ensure that you have a method of maintaining regular contact with your team - both with those you line manage and with your own manager. Be ready to be honest and open in your communication and acknowledge this difficult period and the impact it may be having on each individual. If members of staff raise issues or questions that you simply don’t have answers to, be confident in saying that and take time to search for solutions or answers.
  • Try to be honest, authentic and sincere in what you say. Start by acknowledging the uncertainty and the stress it causes. Be prepared to say that you don't know and that you will come back to people with answers. 
  • Share too if you are feeling vulnerable as a leader or share what you may be finding challenging during these unprecedented times. It is often the case that we feel more able to share our own concerns with others, if we feel we are not isolated in struggling to cope. By opening up to your teams, you create a culture of normalising talking about mental wellbeing and in doing so create a stronger team.
  • Keep staff up to date with government information, but only use reliable sources. The Scottish Government website, has a wealth of information on a wide variety of areas related to Covid-19 and is updated regularly. If you become aware of information being shared amongst your team from social media or other less reputable sources, ensure that it isn’t creating anxiety amongst your team, particularly if it isn’t accurate and challenge the behaviour of those involved.
  • Be aware of the timing of the release of information and consider how best to manage that within your team. Sending key information out late in the day, limits the opportunity for anyone to seek clarification – potentially creating unnecessary anxiety.
  • Ensure your team are clear about how they access any support which may be available through their work, for anyone struggling with their mental health. This may be through an employee assistance programme or a Mental Health First Aider.
  • Ensure that all members of your team have effective ways to communicate with one another and have the right equipment to be able to do so. Provide time and the space for team members to catch up informally, as they would have done in the workplace. Try to ensure that all team members have access to that time and space and no-one feels excluded.
  • Encourage your team to take daily action for self-care, so they are clear about the steps they can take individually for their own mental wellbeing. For further information on this check out Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing and Mental health During Covid-19 (weblink) Model that behaviour by ensuring your team are aware of the steps you take personally to support your own mental health. Remember that in a plane we are asked to put our own oxygen masks on before helping others. It’s a great analogy to remember.

Not one of us could have prepared for the current situation and those teams that are supported through this challenging time, will emerge stronger and more able to thrive as we come out on the other side.

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