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Coronavirus and your mental health at work

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you may be working from home, leaving your home to go to work or on ‘furlough’ (temporary leave). In any of these situations, you may find it hard to look after your mental health and wellbeing. For example, you may be working longer hours, be under pressure, have childcare responsibilities or find it difficult to cope with minimal social contact.

There is no right or wrong way to feel, but some common feelings may include stress or anxiety. If you already have a mental health problem it’s particularly important to talk to your manager about how you’re feeling. Your manager may be able to give you extra support.

To help support your wellbeing you can:

  • stay in contact with people – talk to colleagues or friends about how you’re feeling

  • have a routine so you plan in advance what you’ll be doing each day

  • keep active and exercise

  • make time for activities you enjoy

  • reflect on what helps you feel more positive and what does not

1. Working from home

Working from home can be an isolating and challenging time, particularly as you may need to adjust to this new way of working.

You might find it helpful to keep in touch with other people at work. You may want to think of ways you can keep social contact, for example by having coffee breaks or doing online social activities to talk about things outside of work.

It’s a good idea to talk to your manager about your situation and how you’re doing. They can help you work through problems, for example with managing your workload or working around childcare responsibilities. You and your manager may want to discuss changing your working pattern to suit your situation. For example, your manager may change your start and finish time. You can also let your manager know what kind of contact you’d like. For example, talking over the phone or through video meetings or having online social events with your team.

Employers have a ‘duty of care’. This means they must do all they reasonably can to support your health, safety and wellbeing. For example, some workplaces offer counselling. Your workplace might also have a mental health ‘champion’ – someone at work who leads on changing attitudes to mental health.

2. Supporting your team

You should be approachable, available and encourage team members to talk to you if they’re having problems. Your management style should suit the needs of each person. For example, you could ask team members if they prefer to talk over the phone, through video meetings or by email. You should keep in regular contact with your team to check how they’re coping. You should also make sure your team has realistic targets and clear priorities. Team members should still feel supported and motivated at work.

It’s a good idea to ask staff if they’d like to keep in touch while they’re on furlough. You should agree how often you’ll catch up depending on their needs. Staying in contact with employees can help them feel connected with their workplace. It’s also a chance to ask them how they’re doing.

Not everyone will show obvious signs of a mental health problem and it’s important not to make assumptions. But some possible signs at work include:

  • appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn

  • increase in sickness absence or being late to work

  • changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks

  • being less interested in tasks they previously enjoyed

  • changes in usual behaviour, mood or how the person behaves with the people they work with

3. Communication

during this time It’s important to communicate regularly and openly with staff because the pandemic is changing the way we work and staff need to adapt quickly. Staff may be feeling worried so you should reassure employees and acknowledge their concerns. Making it clear how you plan to support them will build trust and reduce anxiety. You must tell staff about important workplace updates and let them know you’re available if they need support. To help staff feel reassured, you should:

  • communicate openly and share information in a highly visible location, for example on the intranet or by emailing all staff

  • ‘consult’ with staff (ask for and consider their views) so they can give feedback and share concerns

  • provide timely information so staff are regularly updated

You may feel overwhelmed trying to manage mental health in your workplace during the pandemic. You should not be expected to be an expert in mental health. But, knowing what support is available can help.

Trade unions and other employee representatives can help you promote positive mental health.

Trade union representatives are usually:

  • trained by their union on mental health

  • more willing to share concerns than staff may be

  • aware of issues that could cause mental health problems

  • able to work with you to promote the support and resources available to staff

Mental health is something we should all take seriously, but especially in challenging and uncertain times. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find the help you need. For any further help and advice please contact us here.

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