This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, an initiative from the Mental Health Foundation which is taking place this week, couldn’t come at a more critical time for the nation. The coronavirus pandemic brings with it a number of mental health challenges from anxiety and financial stress, to loneliness and burnout.


This year’s theme is Kindness and now more than ever, employers need to be tuned into how their employees are feeling. Symptoms of stress and mental ill-health can manifest in different ways and it can be hard to identify the signs, particularly from a distance.


To help, Natalie Rogers, HR Director for Unum UK has shared 5 top tips to help employers understand how they might better support their staff during this prolonged period of working remotely. 


1.     Ask and listen 

The very first thing any organisation must do is listen to their staff and ensure they feel safe and supported. This is a very stressful period and can leave many feeling mentally vulnerable. Taking the time to listen to individual’s feedback about ways of working day-to-day will not only ensure your team stays productive, but positive too. 


2.     Be kind to your team

When working with others, getting to know each team member individually will help you spot when there is a change. When you see each other pretty much every day, a change in people’s appearance or moods are more obvious. When working remotely, be aware of how they speak on the phone and the tone of their emails. And where appropriate, use video tools for meetings to help feel more connected with your team and look out for any warning signs of mental stress. Taking the time to show you are there for your team can provide a source of comfort and motivation in times of stress.


3.     Encourage employees to be kind to themselves

With many UK employees working remotely and out of sight, it’s easy to lose track of how important   regular breaks are. Employers should encourage their teams to continue to step away from their desks for short periods throughout the day and to stay safe while getting some sort of daily exercise and period of relaxation, which is important for both physical and mental health. 


4.     Act as a role model 

Working remotely for long periods of time can lend itself to bad working habits. For example, late-night emails can make employees feel pressured and can be a trigger for workplace stress. Leading by example is the best way to promote a healthy work/life balance and will help keep you and your team working with a positive mindset. 


5.     Point in the direction of good Mental Health Support

In the current climate employees with mental ill health, burnout or severe stress symptoms may not find it as easy to access support and resources. Employers can help by pointing staff to resources where they have them – for example Unum’s Mental Health Pathway offers Group Income Protection customers a specialist first line response for preventative and early intervention support. In addition, insured employees have access to up to 8 mental health support consultations (including an initial assessment) per year via the Help@hand app. Refreshing your team on the available Employee Assistance Programme services are another way to help them with counselling, resilience, mindfulness and meditation resources.