This week my colleague Laura McMillan and I discuss the impact of the pandemic on the mental wellbeing of those in the care sector, and what you, as employer, can do.
During this difficult time concerns about the potential harm to the mental wellbeing of employees have been brought into sharp focus. It has long been a duty of an employer to take steps to safeguard their employees’ health and safety, including mental health. This is undoubtedly even more acute at the moment for those in the care sector.
The pressures of having to not only deal with critical, or potentially critical situations, but having to adapt and change deeply-rooted working practices during the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be underestimated. Employees may also have concerns about their own health, and that of their families…
What are the risks?
Aside from the most important factor, the human one, an employer who fails to take appropriate steps to safeguard their employees’ mental wellbeing, may find themselves facing compensation claims and/or regulatory investigation or prosecution.
During, and in the wake of, the pandemic, it has been suggested that employers cannot assume their workforce has “ordinary fortitude” and therefore everyone should be considered as being at risk.
As an employer, what can you do?
You should assess the specific mental health risks to your workforce as a result of the current situation and address those.
Wellbeing initiatives should be implemented. Drawing on the HSE’s advice and, in particular, its six managements standards for stress – demands, control, support, relationships, role and change, we suggest a few steps you can take:
(1) Good local team/work group climate
Encourage employees to support one another and talk through their concerns. Although staff rooms and other communal spaces will have had to be adapted so that social distancing requirements can be complied with, ideally some form of breakout space (even a virtual one) should still be made available to facilitate employees in supporting each other.
(2) Strong foundation of supervisor support
Providing support should come from the top. Supervisors, if they can, should arrange regular catch ups to check how employees are coping. Communication is key, and setting aside time to check in with employees could make the world of difference. No doubt a lot of that will have been done already but as the crisis hopefully abates, people may have more time to ruminate over what has happened – so it is important to maintain this support. Not forgetting, of course, that supervisors also need to be supported
To reduce anxieties around changing work practices, providing useful and comprehensive training and explaining the rationale or legal requirements behind those changes will help staff to understand and feel more secure in the way they do their job.
(4) Good organisational culture
Create a culture that celebrates mental health and encourages everyone in the business to talk openly about how they are feeling. Sharing coping strategies with one another, and providing some form of social support where possible is important.
Not only is the wellbeing of your staff important for their own safety, but research has shown that there is a strong link between staff wellbeing and performance outcomes, and therefore, in turn, the service provided to residents and service users.