With scientists questioning if current restrictions will have the same positive impact as previous lockdowns on quelling infection rates, HR experts are warning that this period could cause an employee wellbeing ‘timebomb’.
In fact, as UK science boffins glumly predict that due to the transmissibility of the COVID-19 variant ‘lockdown might not be as effective as the last one in March’, according to Professor Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, speaking to The Mirror, one workplace specialist told HR Grapevine that the UK could be looking at another burnout crisis.
Gary Hemming, Commercial Lending Director at ABC Finance Limited, told HR Grapevine that spending all of your time in the same place, and not having proper barriers between home and work life, can make it difficult to switch off and separate these two aspects of your life.
“This can lead to burnout fairly quickly, so it’s important that you’re aware of the problem and actively working to prevent it,” he warned.
Lockdown and wellbeing figures
With previous research from Glint finding that burnout figures doubled from March (2.7%) to April (5.4%) in 2020, it is possible that HR departments may be faced with similar challenges in ‘lockdown 3.0’ – especially as the majority of people will be living and working in the same space for a prolonged period of time.
Hemming went on to explain that lockdown isn’t good for mental health at any time, adding that it “can really add strain at work”.
“We need to be mindful of this and look to break up the cycle of days being the same. Sadly, I think that the latest lockdown is almost certain to have a negative impact on most people in most areas of their life – work is no exception to that,” Hemming added.
With the length of lockdown difficult to predict according to Hemming, he suggested that the best course of action for employers is “to be prepared for every eventuality”.
“Although this creates extra work, it is a better approach than risking rushed decisions if things turn out differently to what you predicted. At times like these, you really can’t afford to have all your eggs in one basket,” he added.
What practical steps can HR & employers take to support employee mental health?
Dr Nick Taylor, CEO and Co-Founder of Unmind told HR Grapevine that employers and HR departments have a key role to play in supporting the mental health of staff members in the coming months.
One way to achieve this is to make better use of technology. He explained: “Technology has transformed the way we work in the last ten months, and we need to embrace its capabilities too when it comes to mental health.
“By investing in digital mental health tools that can be accessed anywhere and by anyone in an organisation, employers can ensure they are making the right resources available to those who want to use them,” Taylor added.
In addition to this, Unmind’s CEO explained that employers should think about how they can counter the negative impacts of lockdown on mental health physically, psychologically and socially.
“This means not only equipping staff with the information and resources to look after their mental health, but also finding time to check in with each employee, providing opportunities for remote team building, social activities, and looking after employees’ physical wellbeing, such as allowing time for daily exercise,” he explained.
Elsewhere, Taylor added that as with the previous two lockdowns, employers and HR play an important role in creating a sense of routine for staff members and ensuring that they are maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
“This is an unparalleled situation for HR teams. Employers must ensure that those giving the support – whether HR teams or line managers – are well-equipped with the right resources to look after themselves, as well as others,” Taylor concluded.
Yet, Taylor isn’t the only one thinking about employee lockdown burnout. Many employers have revealed ways that they have tried to tackle employee burnout in the past.
For example, HR Grapevine previously reported that the Ohio-based PR firm Geben Communications offered staff “self-care days”.
Additionally, in 2020 job site Indeed announced that staff members were given an extra six days of paid annual leave to help combat work-from-home-related stress.
Elsewhere, some firms have introduced pandemic-specific peer groups which gave staff members a safe environment to talk about some of the challenges they may be facing such as childcare or feelings of isolation.
The CIPD website also suggests that employers will need to adopt a raft of measures to support employee mental health as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
This could include ensuring that staff regain an effective work-life balance and signposting the support and resources available for employees who may be struggling.
Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, Medical Director at Bupa Health Clinics also told HR Grapevine that there are several things employers can do to help support employees.
Thiyagarajan explained: “Mental health can be triggered by a number of things, for example uncertainty about the next phases of lockdown restrictions, or by feeling bombarded by news updates around the virus.”
In addition to this, Bupa Health Clinic’s Medical Director said that encouraging teams to stay active and making time for exercise is important for mental health.
“You could start some friendly competition amongst colleagues or do an online yoga class together,” Thiyagarajan added.