Coronavirus News: Loneliness during Lockdown and the hidden impact on employee mental health
Despite workers having been forced to adjust to new ways of working and grappling with stress and anxiety triggered by the impact of COVID-19, concerns have been raised by the Mental Health Foundation on the long-term risk of the pandemic to mental health.
In its Longitudinal Study of 2,221 UK adults, they concluded that almost a quarter (24%) of UK adults had felt loneliness because of coronavirus. More than four in ten (44%) of young people, aged 18-24 years, had felt loneliness, and feelings of loneliness had more than doubled during the lockdown period. The next most affected group was adults aged 25-34, with more than a third (35%) saying they had felt loneliness as a result of coronavirus, according to the study.
The impact of COVID-19 has touched every part of our society, shutting down parts of the country and setting challenges through social distancing, stay-at-home measures, along with travel restrictions. In the employment context, stress and anxiety may well be exacerbated, employees will have been displaced and working from home, perhaps furloughed and, many will be concerned about their future employment.
- Employers should recognise the risks that work-related stress can pose. Their general duties to take reasonable care for the health, safety and wellbeing of their workers and others are not relaxed due to the current crisis.
In the employment context, while most of us are used to sending emails to communicate we have had to adapt suddenly to videoconferencing and similar technologies instead of face-to-face contact. While use of these tools has allowed employees to maintain output and engagement levels, remote working for some may have resulted in longer working hours and blurring the boundaries between professional and personal lives. The closure of schools has meant that working parents may be struggling to balance their work and family obligations.
- Employers need to create support mechanisms and a culture where their employees feel able to share challenges with mental health which enable employers to identify the risks and devise strategies to manage them. Employers could utilise help from an occupational health provider or the Access to Work services via Jobcentre Plus. This may result in making changes to an employee’s working environment or making reasonable adjustments to help them cope better with their workload after consulting with that employee.
If an employer failed to consult with an employee or failed to carry out the necessary checks and investigations to make the required reasonable adjustments, an employee’s work may suffer as a result. This could lead to disciplinary action and in some circumstances a dismissal if the employer decided the employee was unable to carry out the role. This would give rise for a claim of disability discrimination by the employee which could have been avoid if the employer had acted to support the employee in the first place.
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