Early 2020 was like war suddenly being declared, against an unseen foe. For many businesses it felt like a fight for survival.  Almost overnight huge swathes of the workforce went from the daily routine of work at work, to either working from home or not working at all.  It was a year of massive, unexcepted, challenge and change, with no chance to prepare and no certain outcomes. It was universal and no-one was immune to the challenges.

It is well-recognised that change can be challenging to mental well-being and can even cause illness. Uncertainty and a lack of control are other key well-being factors, and we all had those by the bucket-load. Stretching and challenge is fine and even healthy to an extent, but beyond that stress can have very negative effects. Not only do damaging stress levels have serious costs for the individual, but it is clear that they do not make for effective workers or efficient workplaces. Unfortunately the effects of stress can also be infectious, as well as a distraction to others at work.

Thanks to the vaccine and the outstanding ability of the UK to organise things, 2021 should be the year of gradually managing return to some sort of normality. At least, unlike last year, we have some warning of change, and can plan and prepare for things like the winding down of furlough and opening up of businesses. On mental health, there are many good sources and many good ideas: like the ACAS, Health & Safety Executive and WHO websites (the WHO has a particularly good description of stress in the workplace and of burnout). The Charity MIND has great resources and help to offer workplaces.

Thinking ahead, consulting individuals, and then putting in place a basic mental health organisational strategy, will deal with most issues. That mental health strategy will stand in good stead for the future too and prevention is always better than cure. Mental health first aiders among staff, mental health champions among managers, and a sensible, readable policy for everyone would be a great start. Making everyone aware of things that may indicate a mental health problem, that it is right to look after yourself and everyone else within reason, is a powerful and helpful message. Make sure that staff know where to turn to for discreet and trained help if they detect or experience serious mental problems. It is not snowflake pandering: all the research shows that such action helps with productivity, retention, attendance and relationships, and to have mental health in mind makes good business sense on very level.

Return back to workplaces, after working from home or being on long-term furlough leave, will mean a huge change as people return to the rigours, relationships and routine of work. Those who have been in the workplace all along may find it strange too, and tensions may well arise if reintegration is not properly managed. There may be worries about possible redundancy risks, real or imagined. Some will be returning with physical or mental illness, and may even be disabled, meaning necessary adjustments may need to be negotiated. If staff have been away a long time, especially if they have been ill or bereaved, expect anxiety levels to be high. Managers may want to offer phased return, adjusted duties, shorter hours.  Colleagues who have died or retired will need to be remembered. Babies will have been born. Consider light touch induction for returners – a year out is a long time – and also a proper induction and introduction for those who were new starters over the past year or so. Managers will need to rebuild relationships and routines, and expect an appetite for having fun together too!  Simple social events may be the best way of reintroducing staff to each other and make the return to work much easier for everyone – and who does not welcome going out and socialising?

Thankfully these are constructive challenges to rebuild for the future and it feels good to have survived all the past uncertainty. Here at Ellisons we are ready and willing to work with you on your best options and know how to reduce any risks.  Hopefully, the future should be positive for us all. On managing mental health and everything else, the very best of luck!

At Ellisons our specialist Employment Law Solicitors are able to offer you prompt and practical advice to help you resolve the issues as quickly as possible and on the right terms. Contact the Ellisons’ specialist Employment Law Solicitors today on 01473 556900 or email us at enquiries@ellisonssolicitors.com.