Small businesses well positioned to manage employees’ post-COVID-19 mental health issues

RedArc is urging smaller employers to be on high alert for mental health issues amongst their staff as the government begins to encourage a wider return to the workplace. RedArc believes the more intimate nature of a small business means that management and colleagues may be better able to spot a member of staff who is struggling with mental health issues than is sometimes possible in a larger, more anonymous, place of work.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc Nurses says: “The onset of the pandemic and all it has entailed thus far, has, not surprisingly taken its toll on the mental wellbeing of many people. Anxieties have been wide-ranging, including worries about their own health, the health of their families, the impact of the restrictions, financial worries, depression brought about by isolation, grief for loss of freedom, the sheer impact on the world and of course those who have been bereaved. Employers need to be aware, more than ever, of a potential decline in the mental health of their staff.”

Whilst not a substitute for professional mental health support, small businesses have a key role to play in supporting employees who may be suffering with mental ill health. Some suggestions include:

  • Empathetic active listening: take the time to speak to employees, ask open questions and most importantly listen non-judgementally and without interruption.
  • Ask what would help them: it may not always be possible to deliver on all needs but it will help to understand their situation.
  • Pick-up on verbal and non-verbal messages and signs that something may not be right.
  • Be self-aware and appreciate the impact of employer communication on the employee: do they seem comfortable with the conversation, would they prefer a different method, for example would they prefer a phone call or an email.
  • Summarise what has been said: be supportive and non-judgemental.
  • Signpost to relevant sources of help, including charities such as Mind or The Samaritans, or employee benefits that are available.
  • Follow-up regularly and constantly reassess.

Christine Husbands continued: “Employees are really torn: on the one hand they want to return to their places of work for reasons of job security, finances, social factors and loyalty, but on the other they may have health concerns for themselves or those with whom they live, as well as being anxious about using public transport and practical issues such as childcare.

“Employers have a great responsibility to ease staff back to work in a way which doesn’t exacerbate the condition of anyone struggling with mental health problems. That may mean that a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work, but smaller employers will know their staff well and have a good gauge about how COVID-19 has affected individual people.”

Communication of mental health support

RedArc is also urging smaller businesses to make mental health communications a vital part of their return-to-work guidance for staff. Getting help early is key to avoiding a condition escalating; and an individual becoming very unwell and unable to work is a situation that can be difficult for everyone. As they step back into the workplace, it’s important to remind employees about any mental health provision available, and this can help ensure that help is sought quickly, which means better outcomes for the individual and the employer.

Many insurers make mental health support services available as a free value-add alongside group and individual insurances such as critical illness, income protection and life insurance policies. Services are also available through other organisations such as trade unions and affinity groups, but employers should be mindful that there is a vast spectrum of quality: support can range from a one-off call to a helpline, right through to long-term support from a dedicated mental health nurse including clinically assessed provision of structured therapy sessions.