The government’s announcement on March 27 that all key workers, who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave, will be allowed to carry it over into the next two years, is commendable. What it means is that those workers who are currently battling to keep the country moving during this pandemic will be able to carry over up to four weeks of unused leave. This will be reassuring news to those workers, who may already be feeling in need of a break, to look at this as light at the end of the tunnel.
With that said, there are still many areas that companies need to consider and plan around, when it comes to looking after staff wellbeing during the coronavirus crisis and maintaining a healthy, happy workforce during Covid-19.
#1 – Be alert to burnout
In a normal busy work environment this can be difficult for companies to spot. This is only intensified now that nearly all our workforces are stuck working from home. Even with video conferencing, the lack of being physically present in the same working space as someone makes this trickier to recognise.
Managers need to be alert, and regular communication and genuine check ins with teams will help identify individuals who are stressed, unhappy, and even those who are working while unwell. Of course, this is beneficial for the immediate wellbeing of your staff during the coronavirus lockdown, but in the long term it will help tremendously in restoring an element of normality to people’s working days and routines. When the time comes for business to return to “business as usual”, you want to walk into your office surrounded by a stronger workforce. One that is healthy, happy and motivated.
Making conversations on mental health and employee wellbeing in the workplace normal needs to be encouraged. If you do not already have a system in place to handle this, then it is highly recommended, as it is important for your employees to feel they have the support if ever they should need it. Using data to identify whether issues of mental health are becoming a problem in your organisation is vital so that you can combat it swiftly. Making tools available to employees like wellbeing resourses, or an integrated virtual GP appointment system, are just two ideas which could significantly improve the mental wellbeing of your staff.
#2 – Encourage time off now
Additionally, with the huge number of cancelled holidays our e-days system has seen over the last few weeks the risk of burnout is even more heightened. Not only is there the personal disappointment your staff are bound to feel from having to reschedule time abroad with family and friends, but from a business perspective, what will happen when we all regain our freedom and travel restrictions are lifted?
Businesses should be keen to encourage their employees to take leave even while during lockdown. More than 9,000 holidays were cancelled in March according to the latest e-days data, which could create a bottleneck down the line, leaving small businesses exposed. Employees reserve a large chunk of their holiday for the summer or Christmas breaks, but it has never been more important to highlight the benefits for regular intermittent time off.
‘Perhaps this is a time to encourage the take up of learning new skills and hobbies’
At a time where many are feeling down over the lack of social activity they are having during this lockdown, and with restrictions in place which make the prospect of taking a day or two off seem even less appealing than a working day, this will be difficult. Perhaps this is a time to encourage the take up of learning new skills and hobbies as an alternative to the sun and sea of a weekend away.
Businesses could now be looking at scenarios where, having kept on staff, they now have a workforce entitled to saved-up annual leave. The repercussion of this is that companies will have significantly fewer working days, which, in turn, could lead to critical understaffing. Promoting and encouraging staff to take their holidays regularly throughout the year is very much needed. Being smart now, make plans for this new government policy, and ask employees to take time off around periods where demand is lower.
#3 – Help your staff help themselves
A real problem for all is successfully switching off. While many might be making a conscious effort to stick to usual working schedules, the lack of a commute, combined with many sharing living spaces with flatmates, this can seem like an impossible ask. Often individuals are falling asleep and waking up in the same room they have been working in for the past three weeks.
Given the current situation, there is also the additional problem that many businesses need employees to go that extra bit further. At a time when many may know friends or family who are now unemployed, this extra, required effort at work is seen more of as a relief than a burden, and one not taken for granted in the current economic climate.
Some over-delivery will be necessary to get through this crisis, but companies should be aware that in the long term this will not benefit employees and certainly will not benefit your business. Providing some “extra” benefits so that your employees are better equipped to work from home is one idea. Helping to finance the addition of a desk and chair for example. Employees will be able to assign themselves their day’s work in one space in their home, and this will subconsciously help them switch off when the time comes to “head home”.
These initiatives are just a few suggestions which can not only help everyone’s mental wellbeing during coronavirus lockdown, but also contribute to a workforce confident in its job security.
Steve Arnold is chief executive of absence-management platform e-days