The Mental Health Impact of Coronavirus on Employees: Why HR Support is Key

As the lockdown restrictions, ease and businesses make plans to re-open workplaces, HR managers have their work cut out.

In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be endless people issues to deal with, and if you think you were pushed for time before this happened, I don’t think you’ve seen anything yet.

Employees will be returning to work feeling unsafe, unmotivated, and disengaged, some will be grieving and/or still dealing with the effects of stress and anxiety about health, money, and the future. For some, redundancy may be on the cards.

There will be so much to think about and deal with for HR managers, and while there is a lot of guidance coming out on dealing with the practicalities of employees returning to work, we shouldn’t ignore the impact that the pandemic has had on employee mental health. Here’s why HR support is key to dealing with the mental health impact of the coronavirus on employees.

HR managers have a key role to play

Looking after the mental health and wellbeing of employees needs to be a priority not only because poor mental health affects the bottom line, but also because people are your most important resource and it’s the right thing to do.

We’ve been going through a global pandemic which will have affected us all in different ways. Some people will have lost loved ones, faced financial difficulties, felt stressed, isolated, anxious, and depressed, and there’s no way of knowing how long the impact of all of this will last.

Even though many people feel a strong pull towards getting back to doing things that feel at least a little bit normal, it doesn’t mean that they can flick a switch and revert back to how things were before the pandemic.

All indications are that the return to work for most will be gradual. Shift patterns may change to allow for social distancing to remain in place. Some tasks and activities may be out of bounds for a while. Employees will be coming to work with financial worries, childcare concerns, and more on their minds, not to mention worries about travelling to work on public transport or being safe in the working environment.

As an HR manager, you will play a key role in helping employees return to the workplace feeling safe and supported, and also in helping managers to look out for signs of poor mental health and confidently support their teams.

Four things that HR managers need to focus on

It may seem that you have an overwhelming number of issues to think about, but in terms of employee mental health, here is what you should focus on:

Addressing fears about returning to work

Employees need to be given clear communication around the plans the business has in place to allow them to safely return to work. If employees don’t feel that their health and safety is being prioritised, this can affect mental health. You could consider giving employees a re-introduction to the post-coronavirus workplace, where you can help them connect with their surroundings again and go through changes that have been introduced as part of the government’s COVID-secure workplace guidelines.

Helping employees achieve a healthy work-life balance

Many employees will have struggled with remote working but let’s not forget, it was imposed on us in a crisis situation, so there was a sense of being unprepared and isolated because of the lockdown. However, as we start to think about how we do business going forward, more firms might look at remote working as an option to improve productivity, increase agility, and improve work-life balance for employees. With the right processes in place, it could work.

Employees will definitely see the benefit of not having to commute and having more time to do the things that are important to them, and this will have a positive impact on mental health in the longer term.

Helping employees access mental health support

Even though it’s completely understandable that a traumatic and uncertain situation like the coronavirus pandemic could affect mental health, employees may still be reluctant to disclose any issues. That’s why it’s important that as the HR manager, you drive the introduction of a workplace culture that is open, inclusive, and understanding about mental health. You can do this by:

  • Training line managers on the possible impact that the pandemic could have on employee mental health, how they can spot the signs of poor mental health, and how they can support their teams.
  • Introducing different types of activities that support mental health and wellbeing, like exercise and mindfulness. Advice and support on things like finances and debt may also be helpful in light of the current situation.
  • Raising awareness about mental health through training events or workshops, and encouraging senior managers and directors to talk about mental health in their briefings about how the business is responding to dealing with the impact of the coronavirus.
  • Provide mental health information and resources for employees so they can be informed and understand more about how they might be feeling.
  • If there are still employees working from home, make sure there is a process in place to continue connecting with them virtually to reduce feelings of isolation.

Helping managers support their teams

Managers play an important role in keeping team members engaged and motivated, and supporting them day to day. Poor or ineffective management can affect employee mental health. As the HR manager, you should support line managers to:

  • Know the signs of poor mental health and feel confident enough to have a conversation with employees about it.
  • Know how to refer employees to sources of further support such as Occupational Health.
  • Look after their own wellbeing and talk about mental health so that it’s no longer a ‘taboo’ subject in the workplace and employees feel comfortable discussing it.
  • Create a feeling of being a team, by encouraging collaboration and openness, and providing opportunities to connect socially (when restrictions have been eased).
  • Adjust their expectations of employees at this time. Things are not the same, people are not the same, and they may not feel even remotely ‘normal’ for a while yet. 

HR managers: don’t forget you’re human too!

No doubt you have faced plenty of professional challenges as an HR manager, but the impact of the coronavirus is unlike anything that has gone before.

You’ve had to respond to a constantly changing and uncertain situation, change policies where necessary, support line managers, communicate with employees about the situation, and deal with issues like furlough and redundancy. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is why it’s so important for you to have support.

I can help.

With my HR mentoring support, you’ll have a sounding board to help you explore options for steering the business and employees through this difficult time and beyond.

You’ll feel supported, less overwhelmed, more confident that you can truly help employees and managers, and the business will flourish.

You’ll be able to tap into the 30+ years of learning and experience I’ve had, working in HR and leading teams.

You are not alone. Let me be the trusted friend you need to guide you through your biggest professional challenge yet.

Book a call today to find out more about my bespoke Mentoring for HR Managers.

Or perhaps you feel your teams need additional support through these times? If so, why not consider the Team Turnaround package that can still be rolled out virtually.

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