Whether we are going into work or working from home, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work and fear and anxiety about this new disease and other strong emotions can be overwhelming. Workplace stress is on the increase and is sadly leading to burnout, which can have huge implications for businesses, not only from a financial impact, but from a reputational one too. How you cope with these emotions and stress can affect your personal well-being, and the people you work with and care about. During this pandemic, it is critical that you recognise what stress looks like. As a business we have a duty of care to all our employees and to ensure that we not only are able to spot the signs, but can offer help and reassurance.

Latest labour market statistics show that the annual increase in redundancies reported in the quarter July to August represented the largest increase for over a decade (April to June 2009). At the same time, the pool of available jobs is shrinking. Job vacancies are below the pre COVID-19 pandemic levels and 40.5% less than a year ago. For those lucky enough to be still in work, seven in 10 say that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their overall wellbeing. In separate research, the same ratio of employee respondents (seven in 10) say the loneliness they experienced during the last lockdown was having a negative effect on wellbeing and productivity.

It was also recently reported that 20% of adults are suffering from some kind of depression. That’s doubled from 10% since before the pandemic. The impact of the latest lockdown could further compound all of these problems, as workplace stress is on the increase once again. So as an employer, how can we help?

Employers should recognise the risks that work-related stress can pose, and putting in place support mechanisms and creating a culture where employees feel able to share challenges with mental health should enable employers to identify the risks and devise strategies to manage them. An employer is obliged to:

  • Undertake a risk assessment of health and safety risks including mental health
  • Apply the principles of prevention, e.g. developing a mental health policy covering the organisation of work; giving appropriate instructions to the workforce about how to prevent risks to mental health
  • Provide information to the workforce about any health and safety risks identified in the risk assessment

A breach of health and safety is a criminal offence with potential liability for both individuals and organisations. This potentially means unlimited fines for organisations and individuals, as well as imprisonment for individuals and disqualification of directors. Aside from the regulatory aspects of health and safety law, there is also the potential for civil liability.

Understanding how to support staff and how to have open conversations about how they are feeling and copying will help create a positive culture around mental wellbeing. Creating opportunities for staff to feel safe talking about their mental health and how they are feeling at this time is particularly important. Recognising when a colleague’s wellbeing or mental health may be at risk at an early stage means you can take steps to help them manage this, before it escalates.

For further information on how workplace stress is on the increase and advice on health and safety issues please contact us here.