Communication and mental health into 2021
The coronavirus pandemic has and continues to have a substantial impact on the legal sector in many ways, most significantly on the mental health and wellbeing of employees. Promoting and supporting positive mental health and wellbeing for all employees during these times should be a key priority for firms.
There is no doubt that working from home for a year would have had an impact on an employee’s mental health and wellbeing. This could be due to the lack of daily colleague interaction, collegiate comradery, lack of motivation and inspiration, as well as increased anxiety levels. There may be instances of staff not feeling adequately supported or supervised when working from home, but also feeling stressed and unable to cope.
It has been a challenge for employers to address how an “open door” policy in the traditional office environment can be adapted for employees that are working from home. Firms have managed this by creating more opportunities for communication which has been a key tool in supporting positive mental health and wellbeing. Talking and providing opportunities to be heard, raise concerns, and share ideas has been vital. Many firms have adapted to this by carrying out regular staff zoom meetings, one on ones and surveying on how staff can be better supported whilst working from home, however, not all firms have the resources to do this, or have been able to allow time for this, as their primary focus has been on fee earning.
As we look to return to the workplace, employers will need to adopt adequate safety measures in the office as well as address any mental health and wellbeing concerns. It is important that firms provide all staff with a return-to-work questionnaire. Although not a legal requirement, it would be best practice to provide employees with the opportunity to bring any concerns to the employer’s attention such as social anxiety and how this can be accommodated in the workplace.
Research carried out by the University of Southampton makes recommendations on how employers can meet the needs of employees after lockdown, these are:-
- Focus on ways to support employee well-being and make practical adjustments to workloads and working practices, to ease the intensity and promote better work-life balance;
- Re-engage with flexible working for the existing workforce and review the implications for future recruitment policy and practice;
- Define what a hybrid working pattern looks like for each job role and develop approaches to managing hybrid working in practice;
- Develop standards for good line management with an emphasis on the social and interpersonal skills needed to support, motivate and engage people working under changing circumstances;
- Provide suitable training to strengthen management skills that a future of hybrid and flexible working demands.
It would be responsible for employers to effectively plan ahead for employees returning to the office by providing a return-to-work questionnaire, this will allow employers the opportunity to map out how to address concerns and how they can be accommodated.
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Click here to download the return-to-work questionnaire.