Coronavirus: supporting the mental health of furloughed employees

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This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week, and to help encourage discussion around the subject, we’ve looked into how employers can help support the mental wellbeing of their furloughed employees.

Over the course of the last few days, we’ve been posting on our various social media channels stats and facts about mental health and its impact within the workplace.

It may not come as a huge surprise to many to find out that poor mental health causes significant financial strain to both organisations and the UK economy as a whole.

What is Mental Health Awareness Week?

Mental health relates to “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional wellbeing".

Unlike other health issues, mental health problems are often not visible and can often go undiagnosed.

There is also the stigma surrounding mental health and, despite calls for more openness, mental health often remains a taboo subject.

It is for this reason that initiatives such as the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week are so important.

By encouraging honest and frank conversations surrounding mental health, it is hoped that sufferers will feel more confident in discussing their issues and encourage others to speak out about their experiences.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly further complicated the issue. The economic uncertainty fuelled by coronavirus has meant that many employers have been faced with the difficult decision of what to do when some roles are no longer required.

Typically, at times such as these, employers must choose between one of two options: laying off employees or making them redundant.

On 20 March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced the creation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) designed to avoid mass redundancies and keep workers employed within their role.

The CJRS, which allowed employers to claim up to 80% of furloughed employees’ usual monthly wage costs (up to the value of £2,500 per month), was initially destined to last just three months, from the beginning of March until the end of June.

Midway through April, the Scheme was extended by a further month until the end of July. Just last week, the Government confirmed that it would now be extended until the end of October.

Did you know?

A quarter of the UK workforce, equivalent to 8.4 million people, has now been furloughed. The estimated cost of furlough is £14 billion per month.

Furlough Scheme: what's the latest?

We understand that it can be difficult staying up to date with all the latest changes affecting furlough. This short piece provides you with everything you need to know.

What can you do to support furloughed employees?

Many organisations have put support structures in place to ensure that their furloughed employees' mental wellbeing is monitored throughout this unprecedented time.

Being placed on furlough can have a significant impact on employees. Although some may accept the decision and handle it well, others are likely to be more anxious about the situation they find themselves in.

🗣 Have honest and transparent conversations

Companies choosing to furlough employees should ensure that there are the relevant structures and procedures in place to help and support all those affected. Even if certain job assurances may not be able to be offered, honesty, sensitivity and transparency can help provide a degree of comfort.

Consequently, managers and HR teams must take the time to discuss and understand the concerns of each employee, provide advice and guidance on how to deal with the current situation and maintain contact with their employees throughout.

🤗 Be aware of sensitive circumstances and show you care

It is important to consider the individual circumstances of employees—e.g. are they living alone or do they have a challenging home situation?

By understanding what individual team members are experiencing at home, employers may be able to provide details for local support groups that they can lean on if required.

Employers should be aware that employees living in particularly challenging circumstances may need to be checked in on more regularly.

☎️ Check in with furloughed staff

When an employee is furloughed, they are unable to perform any work that provides a service or revenue to that particular organisation. However, this doesn’t mean that their managers or the HR department can not get in touch with them.

In fact, Mental Health UK encourages employers to set up regular wellbeing chats with furloughed members of staff.

These can be informal conversations and can be useful in helping employers to understand how individual employees are handling the circumstances.

Employers may even find organising group conversations beneficial. If a large number of people have been furloughed, these discussions can act as an opportunity to share best practices and provide peer advice on coping mechanisms.

Not only can this help maintain team spirit, but it can also help relieve the heavy burden of isolation on those that are missing out on human interaction.

👨‍👩‍👦 Keep team members connected

Employers may also wish to include furloughed employees in any fun exercises they run with employees who are continuing to work.

A lot of companies have chosen to run virtual drinks, games or quizzes on various video conferencing apps.

While furloughed employees may not be able to take part in activities that provide a service to the company, inviting them to take part in exercises such as this could help boost their morale as well as that of their colleagues.

🏋️‍♀️ Encourage training and provide wellbeing tips

It may be difficult to see beyond the immediate future; however, it is a good idea to remember that the current situation will not last forever.

One of the problems with furlough is the amount of time left to fill each day. With limited opportunity for going outside and exercising, finding mental stimulation can be challenging.

Although activities constituting “work” are not permitted, training is allowed.

Training provides an excellent opportunity to build on existing skills or even add new ones. Many organisations already offer training opportunities, but for those that don’t, it may be worth recommending employees take part in online training courses, such as The Skills Toolkit provided by the Government.

Useful resources

The City Mental Health Alliance has produced this PDF explaining how employers can support the mental health of their furloughed workers throughout the pandemic.

Mental health helplines

The Mental Health Foundation has produced this page dedicated to supporting mental health during the pandemic.

Furthermore, a list of helplines for more specific mental health issues can be found on the NHS website.

PayFit blog author

PayFit blog author

PayFit

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