Why slow and steady will win the COVID-19 race…
With the Government having pushed back its easing of COVID-19 restrictions in an effort to counter the new Delta variant, our daily lives and companies’ operations continue to remain difficult. The pandemic also continues to have a marked effect on people’s mental health and wellbeing. As the warm weather returns, venues reopen and companies seek to return staff to traditional places of work, John Devitt, chief executive at Recovery4Life, says the battle against COVID-19 is a marathon not a sprint, and that this is the time for caution.
With the recent spike in the now dominant Delta variant of COVID-19 delaying the relaxation of lockdown measures and the opening up of society, coronavirus has once again shown its unpredictability.
With recent projections of up to 40,000 excess deaths over summer and significant concerns of another deadly wave across the coming winter months, as we return to work, there has never been a greater need for businesses to look at how they will address the health and wellbeing needs of their people.
And with continuing uncertainty over vaccine efficacy, and emerging mutations such as the Delta double-mutation or the recently identified triple-variant in Vietnam, the importance of such will continue for a number of years to come.
While many individuals have sought support during the last year, businesses will have to deal with these conditions going forward as firms seek to welcome back workers after months in makeshift home offices.
“As we pick up the pieces and start looking at new ways of working, health and wellbeing in the workplace has to be more than fruit-on-a-Friday, gym memberships and the odd yoga session,” says John Devitt, chief executive of the award-winning Recovery4Life, which helps businesses support their people with specialist health services that include mental health guidance, COVID-19 testing and monitoring of long-COVID-19 symptoms.
“The impact of the pandemic on depression, anxiety and trauma means even more cases will emerge over the next 12 months and are only likely to go on increasing,” says John.
He continues: “Fear, grief, trauma and isolation will impact on every workplace, so every business needs to consider how they will pre-empt these situations.
“Figures before the pandemic showed that one in six people were reporting experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression every week in England1.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated this and will have a long-term impact on how people feel, so strong support mechanisms need to be in place to help them.
“Mental health and psychological security impacts on all parts of a business and at all levels – so this needs to be a cornerstone of any health and wellbeing strategy.
“And with the Government’s provision of free tests for businesses due to finish at the end of June, employers need to think about how they will continue to manage transmission within the workplace and demonstrate to their people that their workplace is safe.
John continues: “Similarly, for those who have been directly affected by the virus and may be affected by long-COVID-19 symptoms, regular health surveillance will be key to ensuring that issues such as ‘brain-fog’ and fatigue are considered in the risk management of safety critical roles.
“The impact of these long-term conditions is unknown, but there is a clear need for employers to be sure they have good occupational health to screen and monitor these conditions over time to keep the workplace and their people safe.
“We’re here to help with these new challenges.
“Employers need to ensure they have a clear understanding of how they are going to support staff going forward, what to do if someone is in distress, and how they will manage situations as we have further spikes and lockdowns.
“It is hoped the vaccines will continue to reduce the death rate and severe health impacts, but they will only reduce not stop transmission, so we need to keep testing and health screening and observing ‘hands, face, space’ for as long as the virus is active.
“These basics, combined with health promotion, supportive policies, programmes and practice, will help develop a supportive and empathetic culture to help us deal with whatever COVID-19 does next.
“While this is a lot to take in when you’re running a business or department, if people are confused or feel they are lacking in support, that is where we come in.
“We care passionately about people and their physical and mental health and wellbeing is absolutely paramount to what we do.
“We work with companies of all sizes – from sole traders and consultants to large companies – and firmly believe the first step is to maximise the resources and systems you already have in place.”
John continues: “Companies must also take a more integrated approach to occupational health, employee assistance programmes (EAP) and even drug and alcohol programmes, as well as programmes such as Mental Health First Aid and volunteering programmes.
“These cannot just be tick-box exercises – they must be self-propagating and have a purpose.
“Once these are operating effectively, employers can identify any gaps and the best way for addressing them or enhancing areas of need.
“EAPs are of particular concern, as many are not effective and are entirely reactive.
“EAPs must be up-to-date and proactive because not everyone will be ready to go back to the office or pick up the phone to ask for help.
“Our EAP model is designed to include elements of assertive outreach by working with HR teams and line managers to identify those who may be struggling and offer support appropriately and straight away, without the need for waiting lists.
“The key thing is the speed of response, and we always look to contact someone within 24 hours of them reaching out; we are a 24/7 business.
“We meet people where they feel most comfortable and where its safe to do so – that can be in their office, at one of our clinics, at a café or, if it works best for them, in their home.”
Recovery4Life’s top tips for improving the physical and mental health and wellbeing of your people:
• Keep up your physical control measures
– hands, face and space
• Use the best tests available. Not all are the same and some range in accuracy from 48 per cent to 98 per cent. If in doubt, get in touch and we’ll share our experience
• Is your occupational health provision fit for-purpose? Will it be able to address complex mental health and physical long-COVID-19 symptoms?
• Do you have an EAP service in place and is it fit-for-purpose?
• Is your sickness policy supportive? Is flexible working available for those with carer responsibilities?
• Have you completed or updated your HSE stress management audits as people return to work?
• Be aware public sector health services are stretched, so, if you can afford private health care, look for a provider that will cover these conditions and change provider if they don’t
• Train your frontline supervisors/managers – they are key to making a difference at shop floor level
• Look after your managers and HR teams – they are often expected to have all the answers to increasingly complex questions
• Make sure you offer ongoing training and supervision/reflective practice to Mental Health First Aiders and that they have a ‘release valve’, so they are not personally affected by issues
• Recruit health and wellbeing champions to lead on developing promoting ‘good’ health initiatives
• And finally – look after yourself! Make sure that you take holidays and watch your wear and tear