Nine in 10 employers think staff need more wellbeing support post-covid. Firms are being urged to provide training to help managers better support mental health and to regularly check in with their staff. We’ll consider that.
People Management reports the poll of 500 HR decision-makers conducted by Towergate Health in January and February this year. It found 86% believed their staff require more health and wellbeing support. 40% said they were concerned about the mental health of staff since the pandemic. 53% said their staff would like more of this kind of support.
Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community, is quoted saying employees had become more discerning and aspirational when it comes to ways of working and that it is up to employers to step up and offer jobs that are beneficial and help workers manage stress and their busy lives. She called on employers to reassess their policies and make wellbeing into all decision making.
The study shows that larger employers with more than 250 employees were more likely to say they were concerned about the mental health of their staff than SMEs. Similarly, larger firms were more likely to say their employees wanted more mental health support as a result of the pandemic.
Most of our clients fall into that category and, as you’d expect, we have been advising on this ever since the pandemic started, so let’s hear more about that. Lawyer Amy Hextell and our Head of Client Training Trish Embley joined me by video-link from Birmingham to discuss it. I started by asking Amy about they key areas she has been advising on:
Amy Hextell: “The first of those, I think probably goes without saying that the longer term impact of COVID is likely to still be a challenge in respect of mental health and something that we're helping clients with, whether that be those people that have suffered with COVID and perhaps have mental health effects of long COVID or whether it be in relation to people who are feeling increasingly anxious as they're expecting to come back to work or life is returning to normal. So, the long-term challenges of COVID are likely to continue to persist for the next 12 months, at least, we think. The other main area really that we're advising on in relation to mental health is we also expect, as a result of the pandemic, an increase in focus from the Health and Safety Executive. So, all employers have got a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace, whether that be at home or actually physically out at a workplace location, but that also does extend to employee mental health and wellbeing, and we think that there's going to be an increased focus on ensuring that that's the case in the coming months. Thirdly, tied with that really, and in relation to another legal duty, is the duty to make reasonable adjustments for those employees who have a disability and, of course, mental health conditions may well qualify as being a disability under the Equality Act which means that employers will be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to remove any disadvantage that the employee is suffering because of that mental health condition. So, they are really the top three areas where we're seeing employers coming to us for advice.”
Joe Glavina: “If I can come to you Trish, and training. The People Management article talks about the importance of managers being able to communicate effectively with staff who are working from home. Thoughts on that.”
Trish Embley: “Yes I think the article made a great point. Obviously, there are lots of benefits of hybrid working but one of the challenges is managers don't get those informal touchpoints with their employees, they don't get to observe. So pre-COVID we used to start off our training sessions with managers saying, okay, let's list the tell-tale signs that somebody in your team is, maybe, having problems with their mental health. So, without the ability to have that observation in the office it can be a challenge for managers and that's why I think that the training and the guidance needs to be adapted so that in the virtual world they can still see the tell-tale signs, the behavioural clues that they would look out for in virtual meetings. Now, the actors have done a great job of switching what used to be classroom-based forum theatre to virtual training. So, we tend to work with smaller groups because with virtual training, you don't want anyone switching their camera off or leaning into their phone or doing their emails. So small groups, so no one's got anywhere to hide, and we can facilitate the forum theatre in exactly the same way that we would have done in the classroom. The other thing, I think, that the actors have done very well is the scenarios that they are role playing will often involve a manager having a discussion with someone in a virtual meeting. So, the training is set up very well to try and give managers the skills that they will need in that new hybrid working environment.”
Joe Glavina: “Amy, if employees do open up and talk to their manager how does the manager maintain confidentiality?”
Amy Hextell: “This is a really difficult area and often an area that we get asked about because it really has got a lot to consider in it because you've got the need to meet your legal duty as an employer and make adjustments and provide adequate support. You've also then got the need to make sure that you're maintaining confidentiality, and of course, for the employee who has disclosed something it is a very sensitive subject and as much as lots of talk about mental health is helping to de-stigmatise it, there is still some stigma attached to it particularly in relation to the workplace and disclosing information. So, I think that really the way to redress this is that in that discussion, where somebody is disclosing information to you about their mental health and about the support they need, being really clear with them in the first instance that it may be necessary to share some of that information with others in order to put in place the support, but agreeing boundaries with them, if you like. So, being open and honest in that conversation and agreeing what parts of the conversation, or what parts of the information, the employee would be happy for you to disclose with others. I think really importantly, and the bit that would probably get forgotten but it's really vital from an employment law and risk perspective really, is documenting that. So, when you're having that discussion with the employee, note down not just what it is that they're saying, but also what it is that they're happy for you to disclose, what it is that they're not happy to be disclosed and then you're decision as a manager, or the thoughts that are in your mind as a manager, about why, for example, you wouldn't be disclosing something, so that if ever then there were to be an issue about whether or not you should have done more, or the employee is challenging you around disclosing information, you're able to rely then on those contemporaneous documents which show the decision making and could act as a defence to potential legal claim.”
The CIPD has produced a number of factsheets for employers on managing mental health which offer some helpful guidance on this subject, albeit very high level. Acas has also produced a guide on coronavirus and mental health at work and the HSE has published guidance for employers on managing work-related stress. We have put links to all of those in the transcript of this programme.