The thoughts of returning to work after yet another lockdown can be overwhelming for a lot of people, and have a hazardous effect on their mental health and well being as a result.
Moreover, this time of the year, when most of us already have to cope with the January blues.
Studies by Irish life health of nation research, have shown a worrying increase in the well being of the people of Ireland.
In light of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, and the restrictions put in place nationwide, levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and restlessness have all increased significantly since the previous survey in 2018.
In this post, we will cover how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected and will continue to affect those deemed to be vulnerable in the workforce.
Additionally, we will take a look at the responsibility of the employer and what systems need to be in place, to provide employees with the extra support needed to deal with issues of mental health, as part of the return to work safely protocol.
The covid-19 pandemic has had a global effect on everything from the economy to mental health, and it is the latter in which we will be focusing on today.
A return to “the new normal”, can be a stressful time for an increasing minority of the workforce. Coming out of our second Nationwide lockdown, with the risks of been infected by Covid-19 in no way diminishing as yet, has increased restlessness and other mental health issues among the workforce significantly.
Those who have been in isolation, the most vulnerable, seem to be the most affected.
A total of 15.8 million working days were lost last year due to mental health conditions.
It’s clear that poor mental health doesn’t just affect the individual;
it’s bad for business too.
RDJ associate solicitor Caomhine Heery is quoted in the Health and Safety Review as saying,“we do expect to see a rise in stress-related personal injury claims over the next few months, however, it is important to remember that occupational stress is not sufficient to succeed in such a claim. An employee needs to show a recognised illness and that the employer has failed in its duties.”
Ms. Heery goes on to say, any injury must be attributable to work, rather than outside influences. The same principles of employers’ liability apply to a stress-type claim as to any other personal injury claim.
So employers must be seen to have taken all relevant steps to prevent harm, including now, complying with the Return to work Safely Protocol.
Returning to work Safely Protocol
The Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace when the economy begins to slowly open up, following the temporary closure of most businesses during the worst phase of the current pandemic.
The Protocol should be used by all workplaces to adapt their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the HSE.
It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take before a workplace reopens, and while it continues to operate. A high-level consultative stakeholder forum, under the aegis of the Labour Employer Economic Forum will be established.
This forum will include membership from the various bodies with responsibility for health and safety at work and for public health more generally.
The forum will allow for an ongoing engagement at the national level on implementation issues in light of evolving public health advice and other factors.
The Return to Work Safely Protocol, is the result of a collaborative effort by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the Health Services Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health, and the Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation.
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Ms. Murray explains that her key piece of advice is: Act reasonably. Most people will have had a shift in their mental sense of safety.
This shift brings about insecurity, fear, feelings of uncertainty, and, at times, panic.
So employers, while not responsible for these feelings or the fallout from the public-health pandemic, must ensure that, as far as their systems of work are concerned, they have allowed for some leeway in terms of providing employees with extra supports, perhaps extra time and extra assurances around the safety of the systems in the workplace and the workflow.
Signs of Mental Stress
Signs of mental distress in co-workers may not always be that obvious to the untrained eye.
This is why we have partnered with Videotile, to create a Mental Health Awareness course that is suitable for all HR workers, managers, supervisors, and employers who wish to understand more about mental health conditions.
This way employees can be better supported, and positive mental health can be encouraged in the workplace.
The course is designed as an introduction to mental health and so no pre-requisite knowledge or training is needed.
Disagreements in the Workplace
Addressing your concerns privately in a calm manner, can usually break any tension or solve any conflict or disagreement you may be having.
Communication is key in the workplace.
That said If the situation does not get resolved, it would be best to discuss your concerns with your manager or team leader.
You won’t always agree with your co-workers.
If you happen to disagree with a co-worker, by getting your point across in a diplomatic way, you will generally avoid conflict.
For example, I agree with this point but think we can improve on this point, what do you think?
You’re not only agreeing with your co-worker, but you’re adding in your 2 cents too while also showing that you value your co-worker’s opinion.
Bullying in the Workplace
Find out if your employer has a policy on bullying and what their grievance procedure is. The policy should outline whether a behaviour is acceptable and how to address the problem.
Discuss the problem with someone you feel comfortable with such as your manager, human resources department, your welfare officer, or union representative (if you have one).
Resolve the issue informally where possible. With the support of a manager or colleague, if you feel able to, arrange to speak with the person who is bullying you.
If you’re not ready to talk to someone at work about it, contact your local citizen’s advice. They will provide independent and confidential advice on what to do if you’re being bullied at work.
Raise a formal complaint if you still do not feel the situation is improving. You may be able to do this through formal procedures in your workplace.
If the situation isn’t improving, or you do not feel as if you can take action, you may decide that leaving your job is the best option for your mental health. Mind
Unresolved mental health issues may cause absence, loss of productivity, and high staff turnover, and it is employers who bear the
associated costs once they hit the bottom line.
Despite a large proportion of employees suffering from mental health conditions, it is rarely talked about in the workplace.
Mental health seems to remain shrouded in secrecy and shame, despite the best efforts of mental health charities and
campaigners to achieve the opposite.
It seems clear that in order to remove the layers of guilt and embarrassment many employees feel, employers need
to open up the dialogue and encourage open communication about mental
Because while most employees currently wouldn’t talk to their bosses about their wellbeing, over half said they would appreciate help and support from their employer.