Tessa Robinson – Furley Page

With businesses across the county adjusting to the realities of lockdown, an employment law specialist with Kent legal firm Furley Page has called on employers to focus on the mental wellbeing of their staff. 

In June 2020, the mental health charity, Mind, released figures showing that 60% of adults found that their mental health declined during the first national lockdown. With shorter days and potential lockdown fatigue, there are fears that these figures could be even higher during the latest period of Covid restrictions. 

Tessa Robinson, Associate at Furley Page, said: “Although employers may want to focus on messages around job security by stating it is business as usual, the pressures facing employees at the current time are unprecedented. Businesses need to communicate clearly with staff, admit that this period is extraordinary and make reasonable allowances to suit each individual’s specific circumstances during lockdown, including strategies to promote good mental health.” 

Flexibility and furlough may help wellbeing 

The closure of schools has left many parents with the dual responsibility of home-schooling children while trying to complete their work. Alongside the stresses of everyday work, there are concerns about offering the correct resources, time and attention to children who are forced to learn from home. 

Tessa continued: “One step in recognising these additional pressures may be to offer flexibility in working practices. This could take many forms including flexible working hours or temporarily amending roles to suit individuals’ varying pressures. 

“Parents home schooling their children will face additional pressures during school hours, but may be able to work flexibly in the morning or evening. In addition, to alleviate pressure, individuals with fewer demands at home could temporarily take on some additional duties.” 

Government guidance has clarified that members of staff may now be furloughed if they face caring or home-schooling demands. Tessa suggests that offering this option or additional annual leave to employees may improve their long-term mental health and productivity. 

Tessa explained: “Businesses are not legally obliged to grant furlough if parents are home schooling, but by offering support where possible during the peak of the pressures being faced, it may potentially prevent or alleviate long term mental health issues amongst your workforce.  

“Some employees are fearful of requesting this as an option, in case it puts them at the top of the pile if a redundancy situation arises. Businesses should reassure staff that this is not the case, and that such measures are intended solely to alleviate their stress as they are a valued member of staff.” 

Communication is key 

As well as offering changes in routine to employees during the current lockdown, Tessa advises that consistent communication and reminders of the company’s support services are vital. This communication can range from emailing wellbeing information and sources to offering counselling services and advice on how employees should structure their working day. 

Tessa concluded: “The key is to keep communication open with employees. These are extremely unusual times that we will hopefully not face again in our lifetimes. The different support that organisations can offer will depend on their size and resources, but these ideas will provide some ideas as to the various options available.”  

Further information about mental health and wellbeing services can be found online at many sources, including mental health charities, Mind (https://www.mind.org.uk/) and CALM (https://www.thecalmzone.net/).  

For advice and support about a range of employment issues, please contact Tessa Robinson on tar@furleypage.co.uk or call 01227 763939. You can also follow the firm on Twitter @furleypage and on LinkedIn.  

By Ed