The COVID-19 approach to stress and wellbeing

Vicki Ford Smith 2019

Vicki Ford-Smith
Consultant, Assurity Consulting
16th October 2020

It will not be news to anyone who has completed a COVID-19 risk assessment that considering staff wellbeing is something that must be included in your risk assessment, with relation to the isolation of working at home to the anxiety of returning to the office. 

But how many people are aware that there is a requirement to complete an organisation wide stress risk assessment for your employees? This has been in place for a while now, but I wonder how many organisations have completed an assessment.

Something that I have found really positive is the number of organisations who have completed a staff survey to gauge the feelings of the staff around returning to work after lockdown. Then using this information to inform how they anticipate people returning to the office and making sure that the procedures put in place help the staff to feel comfortable when working at home or returning to the office. I can’t help but wonder how many of these organisations would complete a staff wellbeing survey and do exactly what they have done with their COVID-19 controls, but apply this to their working practices to improve staff wellbeing.

For those who have not read the guidance, the HSE have provided several tools to help organisations manage wellbeing in the workplace. They have set out six clear management standards which organisations can use to identify stressors and help to populate their risk assessment. We have used the guidance this year for policy setting and for our employee stress survey. The management standards are:

  • Demands - which includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the environment that their work done in.
  • Control - relates to how much say people have in the way that they do their job.
  • Support - looks at areas such as how much encouragement you get and the resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
  • Relationships - concerned with avoiding conflict and the way that unacceptable behaviour is dealt with.
  • Role - covers how people understand their role within the organisation and if people have conflicting roles.
  • Change - how the organisation manages change in the workplace and how the change is communicated.

Managing these areas well is a key step to improving productivity, reducing accident and ill health rates. It will also improve moral and help staff to feel appreciated and listened to.

The HSE have several resources on their stress microsite, posters, information about the management standards and a workbook that can be used to identify what you are doing well and those areas where improvements can be made.

Many organisations are quick to list the things that they have in place for wellbeing, from yoga to duvet days, employee assistance programs to bring your dog to work days and that is all great stuff, but if your staff don’t know how to do their job well or they have shift patterns that make caring for their family difficult, doing yoga on a Wednesday really isn’t going to improve things.  

Instead of offering what the organisation perceives to be in the best interests of the staff, perhaps ask what the staff what they really need. You might get some uncomfortable answers, but surely, it’s better to hear it and look at what you can do to put it right, rather than spending another annual wellbeing budget on things that aren’t hitting the mark.  

Understanding staff wellbeing and putting in place the right controls is an easy win. There are lots of tools out there to help you and who doesn’t want to do the right thing for their staff?