Mental health top of management agenda as pandemic continues

Author
Ian Bell
Executive Director of Bath Chamber of Commerce and Initiative | Business West
16th October 2020

Very many of our members reacted quickly to the onset of COVID-19, switching to home working almost overnight and managing to continue to provide their services in as normal a way as possible.

It says a lot about their speed and agility that they were able to adapt and keep the wheels of our local economy turning. But six months in and it’s clear there is a further insidious consequence of the pandemic that could cause long term problems.

Mental health is starting to emerge as a major issue for business. Of course, good employers have always been concerned about the well-being of their staff but whereas HR matters often tended to end up towards the bottom of a management meeting agenda, now the topic is right at the top.

In the early days, the adoption of working from home and the use of video meetings enabled many businesses to continue with relatively little damage to productivity. But the longer things have gone on the more we are starting to see things change.

We are hearing from our members examples of a fall in productivity. One of the reasons might be that people have finally used up their reserves of creativity, a brilliant phrase coined by the wise Edward Nash. It’s as though the mains electricity has been turned off and we’ve gone over to a battery supply, which had been generated by months and years of normal office working, where people fed off personal interactions with colleagues and clients.

Without that real life contact the battery has started to run down, with dire effects. People could only keep up an enthusiasm for working in isolation for so long. Too many live in homes ill-suited for work, perhaps with housemates or childcare demands. Businesses have recognised this and done what they can to alleviate the situation. That could mean small teams being allowed into the office, reducing the domestic pressure and also doing something to help emotionally.

This is complex stuff, with businesses having to balance a range of issues – keeping things going, following Government health guidelines, preparing for Brexit and at the same time thinking about the well-being of their staff.

People are missing social interaction with no team get togethers, birthday parties and no prospect of much in the way of Christmas festivities. We are hearing about companies offering counselling to staff as a means of helping them work through the stress of isolation. It’s an excellent idea, and it will be interesting to see how effective it will be.

One thing for sure is that our members are giving this issue their full attention and we’ll be sharing ideas and the things they’ve found to work to ensure all their staff have the support they need to work through what is going to be a long haul.

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