Supporting workplace mental wellbeing as the coronavirus develops

13 Mar 2020

Supporting workplace mental wellbeing as the coronavirus develops

Navigating COVID-19 (commonly known as coronavirus) is among the highest priorities of business leaders across the world. The outbreak poses many operational and procedural challenges, but with disrupted working schedules and febrile media speculation, it’s important not to overlook the impact it can have on the mental wellbeing of your workforce too. 

Here are some tips to help you manage the impact of coronavirus on the mental wellbeing of your workforce.


Mitigate speculation with effective communication

The deluge of news coverage on the coronavirus can be overwhelming. Most publishers, brands and organisations will have something to say on the outbreak.

But avoiding the topic altogether will create a vacuum for misinformation. While there’s still uncertainty around the virus, speculation can fuel anxiety. It’s essential therefore to distill the right information from trustworthy sources.

Keep up-to-date with government and public health advice, both nationally and locally. Bookmark sources such as:

- WHO (World Health Organization)
- Gov.co.uk
- NHS public health advice

Be sure to communicate your company policy, contingency plans and advice in a way that’s compassionate and rational. Prepare for questions, the regularity of updates, and how you’ll ensure consistency and accuracy.

Maintaining connection while working remotely

As the spread of the virus continues, it’s likely many organisations will be advised to introduce work from home policies. While this isn’t out of the ordinary for many workforces, home working can pose challenges for people unaccustomed to spending long periods of time away from communities.

Some employees might experience feelings of isolation and loneliness. Others may struggle with the blurring of boundaries between life and work, and not knowing how to switch off.

If you decide to send employees home as a precaution, outline instructions to ease the transition and try to set clear expectations for how you'll communicate internally. Bear in mind that work offers necessary routine, structure and meaning, which are all important for positive mental health, so try to help employees stay connected to these aspects of their role.

Consider how you’ll set clear working hours and maintain connection through digital platforms, and bring in as much opportunity for face-to-face interaction as possible through video conferencing.

Supporting communities within your workforce

The outbreak of news coverage – as much as the virus itself – could be particularly overwhelming to anyone who lives with a long-term physical health condition that puts them at greater risk, or those who have experienced past trauma.

And when it comes to ethnicity, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. Amid the fear and confusion, it’s an unfortunate human response to point fingers. It’s important to keep an eye out for – and appropriately challenge – any forms of discrimination, and make sure all communities in your workforce feel supported.

Be mindful of individual differences

Everyone makes sense of and reacts to stressful situations in their own way. How your employees respond to emergencies depends entirely on their individual characteristics and experiences.

For instance, people who are prone to anxiety might find it particularly hard to tolerate the uncertainty and will likely experience a heightened sense of threat. Conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder and health anxiety could be triggered, and people experiencing symptoms of these might find it harder to cope than others.

Other conditions, such as depression, might also be exacerbated. As the key building blocks of accomplishment, social connectedness and enjoyment are compromised, people risk losing touch with the things that keep their mood level. And for anyone who sees a therapist or takes medication, it might be harder for them to access these necessary supports.

Without making assumptions, it’s important to take an individualised approach when supporting diverse workforces. This could be as simple as letting your people know there’s someone they can speak to for advice – no matter what their concerns are.

A final word on proactivity

While COVID-19 is a physical virus, its impact on our mental wellbeing mustn’t be overlooked. In order to maintain operational effectiveness and to keep our workforces engaged, it’s vital employers take a proactive approach to supporting the mental wellbeing of their people.

Further resources

For workplaces with access to the Unmind platform, several of our learning and development Series can empower your employees to manage their mental health at this time.  

Point your teams towards our latest immune system-boosting series Food For Energy, developed in partnership with a registered dietitian, as well as our popular Food To Boost mood series. Meanwhile our 'Cultivate Mindfulness' Series promotes being in the moment and creating positive mindsets.

In the Tools area of the platform under Move & Yoga, you'll also find guided yoga workouts that people can use while they’re stuck at home.

Our 'Working With Worry' and 'Combatting Stress' Series are excellent resources for learning techniques to cope with challenging situations.

Finally our 'Overcoming Burnout' Series will help employees through schedule changes and fluctuating workloads – especially for those covering colleagues taken ill.

To find out more about managing workplace mental health with Unmind, get in touch following this link. 

For further advice on managing individual wellbeing in the midst of coronavirus, read Mind’s latest guidance.

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