Employers who don’t support staff wellbeing during the COVID-19 lockdown can expect a second crisis in the latter half of 2020 as a wave of work burnout and stress takes its toll, experts have warned.
A period of quarantine, like the one taking place across the UK now in the fight against COVID-19, leads to a wide range of psychological impacts including depression, anxiety and insomnia.
A Belgian study showed the proportion of the population feeling a toxic level of stress increased 10 percentage points to 25% two weeks into lockdown. It’s said those people are at risk of burnout and stress issues.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, depression, anxiety and stress were already the top reasons for long-term absenteeism, according to Health and Safety Executive figures.
Dr Elke Van Hoof, a professor of health psychology and primary care psychology, told the World Economic Forum the toll of the stress being felt by people in the lockdown could result in an epidemic of burnouts and stress-related absenteeism later this year.
Homebound workers, increasingly insecure over their jobs, are working longer hours, according to reports. UK staff working from home are putting in two hours extra every day during the current crisis, the Independent newspaper reported.
A poll The Institute for Employment Studies showed almost half of workers (48%) were putting in longer or more irregular hours than normal and 50% were not happy with their current work/life balance.
In addition 20% reported increased alcohol consumption.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper, workplace wellness expert and Delamere health advisory board member, is calling on employers to put in place measures to support staff now and help avert a crisis down the line. He fears the issue will be with presenteeism (when people work long hours when they are unwell affecting productivity and health) rather than absenteeism, because people will be scared for their jobs and not want to take time off.
He told us: “I don’t think you’ll see absenteeism but will see presenteeism. We’re going into a recession and that means people won’t want to be off ill and will continue to work during lockdown and when we come out.
“They will suffer a lack of mental wellbeing but will turn up for work but be unlikely to contribute any added value.
“Line managers need to be checking up on the health and wellbeing of their teams all the time. This requires line managers to have substantial EQ (emotional intelligence). There are a lot of managers from shop floor to top floor that have technical skills and not necessarily people skills.
“Managers need to not have too heavy expectations on performance. They need to have realistic deadlines and objectives and not overload people because they are going to be stressed. If people feel supported they will come out of this.”
In a webinar for the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development), of which he is president, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Manchester Business School, Sir Cary said: “Don’t burn yourself out because I think that is a real worry in this.
“People when feeling insecure will tend to work more. Try to discourage that.
“Also, know what support is there and point them in the right direction if someone needs it.
“We could come out of this and learn a hell of a lot. We could be working much more flexibly, we could have people with more autonomy and, if we treat them well and are kind and humane, we can all benefit and have tighter, better and more efficient teams.”
Sir Cary issued ten points of advice each for people working from home and for the employers and managers of work-from-home teams.
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