With April being hailed as Stress Awareness Month – there has never been a more important time to promote the well-being of the UK’s workforce.
As thousands of employees are transitioning from their daily office routine to working remotely for an indefinite period during these unprecedented times, staying in contact with colleagues and feeling supported by bosses is becoming crucial for our well-being and mental health.
On top of adapting to a new kind of working day and maintaining a high level of productivity, many people are self-isolating, looking after vulnerable people and / or juggling home schooling – all adding to the pressures of daily life.
Since 1992, Stress Awareness Month has been marked in the UK, seeing health care professionals and health promotion experts across the country join forces to increase public awareness about both the causes, symptoms and cures for this modern stress epidemic.
Not only affecting our personal lives, the feelings of anxiety, depression and stress also often manifest themselves in the workplace. When coupled with the ongoing uncertainty regarding the Coronavirus pandemic and people working remotely, supporting staff and one another is paramount.
Thankfully, we are noticing that companies are increasingly recognising this and taking the issue seriously, putting measures and steps in place to protect and enhance the wellbeing of their staff during these unprecedented times.
There are a number of effective measures which can be adopted to make everyone still feel included and to use work as a focus – both in a professional and social capacity.
Here are some tips that can be put into action by employers and employees experiencing symptoms of stress and anxiety in such uncertain times:
- Please do prioritise your health. If you are self-isolating at home and are able to work, continue to follow the relevant medical rules and find a comfortable place to work. Maintaining a normal routine can contribute to alleviating the feelings of stress.
- Take regular breaks as you would in the office. Trips to the loo, or to make a coffee provide much-needed breaks from screen time. If you have a garden, spend a few minutes each day outdoors, enjoying a drink or a moment’s peace. Use your lunch break to take a walk, run or cycle in line with the Government regulations.
- Take part in, or encourage, regular video or conference calls with colleagues to maintain contact – even at a distance – to continue a feeling of inclusion. It’s amazing how much of a boost you can feel after seeing your colleagues faces. It’s likely that meetings will still need to happen, so use this opportunity to video conference with the team.
- Ensure you continue to eat healthily – working from home can lead to temptation of over-eating so plan your lunch the evening before to save time. If possible, keep a supply of healthy snacks nearby – fruit, vegetable sticks with hummus, and nuts are all foods that provide nutritional benefits as well as keeping us feeling satisfied.
- Make sure you pick up the phone or use video conferencing to speak to at least one person a day. This doesn’t need to be work related, you can dial in to a colleague for a catch up during your lunch break, or to check in for a few minutes to make sure the team are all ok. Try and lighten the mood with some suggestions of how you and your colleagues can interact away from ‘work’, one example being a virtual happy hour with colleagues!
- If you are concerned about not being able to work because of illness or overwhelmed about having to spend time home schooling children as well as continuing to work, arrange to speak to your employer at the earliest opportunity; flexible working from home can be discussed.
- Where you can, have a structure to your day – just as you would in the office, and remember to take regular breaks from working at a computer or screen.
- Try and lighten the mood with some suggestions of how you and your colleagues can interact away from ‘work’; arrange virtual lunches or once a week video chats where you don’t talk about work.
Stress can be triggered by many different factors, but industry figures estimate that approximately three in five UK workers consider their workloads to be excessive, and battle with meeting deadlines.
It’s not uncommon for people also bring home-related stress to the workplace. Although employers are not legally responsible for stress that originates in the home, well-managed organisations will have arrangements that allow them to address it. This might include access to counselling services and tweaking or changing working hours.
Studies from The Mental Health Foundation reported that 74 per cent of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. While further research found that over 11 million days are lost at work each year because of stress at work; with absence in the workplace currently costing the country over £5 billion annually.
With April presenting itself as a timely reminder of how serious and damaging ill mental health can be, it’s time that employers around the world increase their focus on employees mental health, finding ways to support them even more right now, as well as putting long-term plans in place.
There are more details from the HSE website http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/ or https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak