Making sure your employees feel supported and understood was important before the pandemic – and now of course it’s even more crucial. The impact of Covid-19 on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace (as in everyday life) has been significant, with a big increase in the number of people experiencing stress and anxiety.
Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress, whether they have to travel to work or are doing their jobs remotely from home. And of course, having employees working from home makes it even harder to assess how they’re coping.
At HR GO we see how successful organisations prioritise employee mental wellbeing, and the good news is that many more people are now talking about how they’re feeling. This year in particular we’re making sure we have plenty of conversations around work-related stress, anxiety and burnout, both internally as a team as well as marking this year as our Wellbeing Year.
We’ve written before about how important it is to talk to your workforce about mental health and wellbeing. But as a manager, how can you check your team members are OK given all the uncertainty and new challenges? And crucially, how can you do this without them feeling you’re prying into their personal lives, or being overbearing?
It can be hard to know the right questions to ask. But there’s value in being proactive and thoughtful – in asking employees the right questions, letting them speak and giving them the space to express any concerns freely.
To mark the fact that April 2021 is Stress Awareness Month, here are some questions to try in your next one-to-one catch up.
Many team members may be fearful of admitting they’re not coping in case it’s seen as a sign they can’t do their jobs. So when you ask how someone is, be prepared for a standard ‘I’m fine, thanks’. And try to dig a little deeper by asking how they’re really feeling.
Bear in mind that many will still be reluctant to talk even if you keep asking them. If they don’t want to share their feelings or concerns with you at the time, the fact that you’re asking questions shows them that they can come back to you in the future.
Getting a heads up on an issue that someone might be struggling with means you can take measures to help before it becomes a huge problem. This question also helps you gain trust with your employee, and makes sharing any worries seem a slightly easier step.
In a remote workplace where there’s no distinction between work life and home life, people we live with can be affected far more by our work stress than before. Your employees could be coping less well than you realise.
Asking someone how their family members are coping can be a way to get clues on your employee’s own stress levels. Getting the chance to talk about someone else may also blunt any awkwardness about talking about their own feelings.
Ask an employee “How are your stress levels?” and they’ll probably answer that they’re normal and manageable. So try eliciting some ideas on actions you can take instead. This question can act as an indirect way to gage whether that person feels they’re coping with their workload, and takes the emphasis off them if they worry they are having problems.
Do they know the support that’s available for them at work? If you have wellbeing programmes in place, make sure they know how to access them. Some companies are giving employees access to counselling sessions via video. Others have signed up to personal training or mindfulness online which colleagues can do together.
Here are some different questions to ask which can help you take stock of how an employee is feeling – and give you clues on how you could help:
It’s clear that taking action on stress is good for employees as well as businesses. And if your staff feel able to talk to you of their wellbeing concerns, that’s one step further in reducing sickness absence and gaining a more productive and cohesive team long after lockdowns are over.
Free downloads for more information:
Mental health charity MIND: How to take stock of mental health in your workplace | HSE: Preventingwork-related stress