Duty of care for companies is typically focused on protocol and practicalities such as travel alerts and tracking. But there’s no doubt that the link between mental health, lockdowns, and the associated uncertainties of the pandemic is real. We cannot talk about duty of care in isolation, without addressing one of the most pressing issues of the current climate.
Employees contend with increased workplace stresses related to working from home, work/life balance, fear of being laid off, loss of control over how work is done, and anxieties around getting infected with COVID-19. In the US alone, Pew Research reports that over a third of Americans experienced high levels of psychological distress during the coronavirus outbreak. The implications of these stresses can lead to very serious issues such as substance abuse and suicidal ideation.
All of this increases with travel; add in usual components like jet lag, time zone changes, loss of support structure, increased stimuli, change in sleep and diet, alcohol, and lack of exercise. Anxiety and depression are the two main manifestations (symptoms) of stress and they are exacerbated when employees travel for work. In fact, their likelihood can increase by 54% and 62% respectively (from baseline) after 14 nights spent travelling for business.
Here are three steps to support employees
- Provide psychological support – Provide resources to support staff in a variety of ways such as by telephone, FaceTime and Skype.
- Make sure that everyone is aware of the resources available – When people are experiencing mental health challenges such as distress, burnout or anxiety, they are not always in the frame of mind to know where to go. Raise awareness to ensure resources are front of mind and easy to access.
- Make resources available 24/7 – Make sure that your people know that help is available in a crisis, no matter the time of day.
De-mystifying mental health issues and bringing them to the forefront of discussions inside and outside of the workplace is a fundamental step in addressing this epidemic. Organisations must build a culture of health for their employees, and destigmatise mental health issues to allow employees to feel safe and comfortable to come forward and ask for help.