As people start going back to work in the coming weeks, either to the office or working from home, the new post-pandemic environment may seem very strange.
Some of the issues we are all confronting are:
Uncertainty – it’s very hard to make plans even a week ahead, let alone months ahead, which is extremely unusual for most of us and very unsettling: social distancing; the after effects of lockdown; long-term isolation (which may be continuing if we live alone and work from home); fears about catching the virus; fears about passing it on to vulnerable people, particularly our own parents; potential lack of job security; financial insecurity; using public transport to commute to work.
That’s a big list of things to think about. Then add in continued home schooling whilst working, with holidays looming and fears about the impact on job performance and potentially irregular work hours.
For many families in this position, there is no clear end to office hours, as the 24 period merges into one with a bit of sleep thrown in, particularly for those doing a 5 am start to try to juggle children, schooling and work.
Just a couple of these things would have been a real worry BC (before COVID) but now we have to juggle all the usual anxieties at work and add this long list into the mix.
Early research from the CIPD into the impacts of lockdown includes findings of tiredness, musculoskeletal conditions, poor work life balance, reduced exercise and increased alcohol consumption. Here at TeamDoctor we have certainly found that our films on back pain, sleep and exercising at work have been particularly popular during lockdown.
But before we decide to crawl into a dark corner and give up, remember that we are a very resilient group of people – and as a nation we do pull together in times of trial. We will make it through and come out stronger at the other end, but the process is tough and people need help to make that journey as smooth as possible.
So what should employers do?
Health and wellbeing in the workplace are no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have. But once this is understood, what does a ‘must-have’ look like?
Solutions will range from supporting people to get out of lockdown mode and regain a good work-life balance through to helping those with or developing more serious mental health conditions. Prevention is always better than cure and one of the best ways of preventing problems is through education and awareness.
Many people will respond well to self-help, developing an understanding of what problems they might be facing and how they can tackle them. Others will need more help and further, specific interventions. One size of solution will never fit everybody but in this climate, where everyone’s resilience has been challenged, we need a chance to understand how our health might be impacted at work – not just our mental health, but other factors which impact on our health like exercise, diet and sleep. These make a big difference to our overall wellbeing. We also need to understand what we can do to help ourselves so we that we have an element of control.
Talking about mental health is important. It is easy to say, but very difficult to do. Despite years of campaigning, we remain very bad at it, as any statistics will show you. The fact that stress and stress-related illnesses are responsible for over 50% of all workplace conditions demonstrates that we haven’t got it right yet.
Effectively communicating with people is a great start. If you ask how they are, really listen to the answer. The experts always say ask twice – because the first time you will get the standard response of ‘fine thanks’ but the second time, you might get a much more genuine answer.
Noticing what is going on inside yourself is very important too. Often we don’t realize how we are affected by current events and stress in general. One of my friends who was particularly fearful at the beginning of the outbreak, woke up to find a bald patch on her head a couple of weeks ago. The specialist she then consulted said that hair loss due to stress often happens two or three months after the stressful event so my friend, although knowing she was stressed, had no idea that it would have a physical impact on her months after the event. I am sure this sort of stress-related reaction will resonate with many.
Getting everything right is difficult but there is a lot of help available. Many of our customers, whose employees have used the Team Doctor film library extensively over the last few months, have given excellent feedback about improvements in sleep and general wellbeing from people who have struggled previously over a long period.
Don’t be too down-hearted by the mental health and wellbeing challenge. We can all do this! I’ll leave you with American author Napoleon Hill’s reminder that if you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.
For more information about the Team Doctor library of more than 50 films helping people to understand more about work related health issues, and how to cope with those issues, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org