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19 May 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week – creating a supportive and productive work culture during the lockdown

3 mins

Mental Health Awareness Week feels particularly important this year.  Not only are we all trying to deal with this lockdown, but, before that (although, it is difficult to remember!) positive mental health messages such as #BeKind were making progress on social media – Kindness is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

Employers should already be acutely aware of the benefits of supporting the mental and physical health of their staff; billions are lost each year to reduced productivity and sickness absence.  It is worth reminding ourselves of the Mental Health Foundation’s guidance on how to support mental health at work.  It is vital that the culture of each workplace is open to the difficulties colleagues may be facing, be they short term or something more established – the days of this being seen as a weakness should be long over.

There is no universal approach to the wellbeing of each individual staff member, but there are some important general principles that you may want to consider implementing, including:

  • Flexible working
  • Annual leave
  • Regular and confidential supervision
  • Regular team meetings
  • Sickness absence pay and management
  • Occupational health recommendations
  • Adjustments to the workplace
  • An open workplace culture
  • Appropriate support and training for managers, and senior staff taking the lead in creating a positive mental health culture

Employers should not shy away from using relevant procedures to help manage employees who are experiencing difficulties – staff management policies were originally introduced to try to benefit employees.  However, it is vital that the policy is approached in a positive way, and from the perspective of helping the employee.

The lockdown imposed by the government in response to Covid-19, and a whole host of other concerns that arise out of the pandemic, will be having a particular and unusual effect on people.  It is trite, but the circumstances really are exceptional for most people of working age in the United Kingdom.  In addition to the general principles listed above, employers can implement some relatively easy lockdown-specific measures to try to help staff, which will also reduce costs – probably a welcome addition given the recent UK GDP figures.

  • Employers can modify their flexible working policies on a short-term basis to offer more reduced hours and pro-rated salary working during this lockdown.
  • Employers can extend their unpaid leave policies to offer more ad hoc unpaid days on a short term basis.
  • Employees should be advised on the short and longer-term benefits of not overloading themselves during lockdown, i.e. undertaking considerable work from home, potentially while also juggling other responsibilities, most notably childcare, in light of the above.
  • All of the above should be considered before any company-wide measures are implemented on all staff which could result in reduced salary (either with reduced hours or not).  An employer can be candid with employees and explain that if more people are able to take up the voluntary options, then it will reduce the prospects of the company needing to reduce hours across all staff, or make redundancies.

If you need help reviewing your contracts or policies in order to promote mental health in your organisation, please contact Robert Maddox.  

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