Since Covid restrictions came into force, employee wellbeing and mental health has been a hot topic. It is a relief that society as whole is realising the importance of measures to ensure wellbeing and mental health. However, it is worth considering how to ensure sustainable and effective measures throughout the pandemic and beyond.
Where are we in terms of the pandemic?
This week we got the news that blissful freedom will have to be delayed. That is to say that restrictions will not be lifted on June 21st.
The vaccination programme has been a great relief. However, there’s still a way to go before it is complete. With the more easily transmitted Delta variant – formerly known as the Indian variant – increasing it is important to allow extra time for vaccinations to be completed.
Moreover, there are still unknowns about this pandemic. Scientists know that the vaccines are effective against Covid-19 and the Alpha (Kent), Beta (South African) and Gamma (Brazilian) variants. To a lesser extent, the vaccines also seem to offer protection against the Delta variant.
What are areas of concern for employees?
For furloughed employees, this delay may well be a source of anxiety. This is because, as part of the last budget, the chancellor announced that the government would gradually reduce the amount of furlough support offered from June 30th. From this date, furloughed staff must still receive 80% of their wages but employers will be required to contribute 10% up to £312.50 for July. This will increase to 20% up to £625 for August and September.
According to a yougov poll, half of the furloughed employees surveyed reported a decline in their mental health. Half also stated that furlough had been bad for their mental health.
Factors that may also impact this group’s mental health maybe:
Feelings of social exclusion
Employees working from home
This group of employees may have suffered from feelings of social isolation. They may have also felt it necessary to work longer hours in order to secure their roles. As well as this, they might have had to pick up additional work loads created by other staff being furloughed or made redundant. Furthermore, many in this group will have had the additional pressures of attempting to care for children and sharing working spaces with family members during lockdown.
58% of employees surveyed in this group are keen to get back to the office. However, it is yet to be seen how they will respond when faced with the reality of going back. That is to say that once restrictions are lifted, public transport will likely return to being very busy and social distancing in the office, masks and increased hand washing may be deemed unnecessary.
While the latter points are unlikely, there are points of argument against continued use of masks etc. For example, natural immunity to Covid is now thought to last up to eight months. However, the duration of immunity following vaccination is not yet concretely confirmed. Scientists are working hard to establish whether Pfizer and Moderna recipients will require boosters. The AstraZeneca jab is thought to remain effective up to several months. With so many known unknowns, and differences of opinions between individuals within work forces, staff returning to offices might find they are unprepared for the impact this could have on their feelings of wellbeing.
Employees already back to the workplace
Some will have worked through the entire pandemic. Others will have returned to offices following the lifting of lockdown. The area of most concern for these groups might be the increased number of people using public transport and other services. In addition, they might also have concerns about the known unknowns and variables.
How far should you expand your existing policies and measures considering this is an extreme event?
This is a tough question. The pandemic to date has had a large impact on mental health and wellbeing. However, while Covid might stay with us forever, pandemic phase is likely to fizzle out. While it remains unknown how and when the Covid-19 pandemic will lose steam, it is worth considering that mental health and wellbeing policies need to be sustainable in the short, mid and longer terms. Of course, you can always amend a policy, but some will be more difficult to roll back once implemented that others.
Another consideration is how ensure your policies are effective. According to the CIPD, one of the biggest hurdles for employers in supporting their employees mental health and wellbeing is the stigma that still surrounds mental health. Employees worry about a negative impact on their careers if they admit to their employers that their mental health and wellbeing has been negatively impacted.
Comprehensive guidance on employee mental health and wellbeing is available from the CIPD
Useful links about Covid-19 and the Pandemic