Coping with employee absence and wellbeing during Covid

The coronavirus pandemic has upended working lives on an unprecedented scale, prompting organisations that may not have previously considered, for example, home working to go entirely remote.

by Lauren Brown
Last Updated: 17 Nov 2020

Firms once set in their ways have agilely embraced solutions such as flexibility to help their workforce weather the storm.

Not long ago returning to the office topped the news agenda, but now as cases continue to rise and local lockdowns come into effect, employers will instead need to consolidate their efforts. A healthy workforce, motivated by the knowledge their employer values them and their wellbeing, has never been more important. Not only on an individual level, but as a means too of future-proofing business and ensuring productivity during a period of economic uncertainty.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, addressing wellbeing at work can increase productivity by as much as 12%, so getting it right when it comes to wellness and absences should be at the top of every business’ agenda as the crisis rolls on.

Cigna Healthcare knows that dealing well with employee absence is absolutely critical to success. With this in mind, we’ve collaborated in order to outline what is best managerial practice when it comes to absences in the age of Covid.

Looking out for the signs

Whether it’s the loss of a loved one or the stress of juggling childcare with work, coronavirus is putting significant strain on many peoples’ mental welfare.

Cigna’s latest 360 Wellbeing Survey found 64% of people work in an “always-on” culture where they feel the need to constantly access work emails, attend work calls or be available out of hours. Remote working has amplified this for many due to the increased use of for example Slack and Whatsapp to collaborate. According to the study 12.8m workdays are lost each year because of stress, so it’s never been more important than now to handle wellbeing and absences right.

Associate solicitor at Paris Smith, Charlotte Farrell, urges all managers to have mental health on their radar.

“Managers should know the key symptoms to look out for. As well as the obvious physical symptoms of Covid-19, managers should be alert to employees showing symptoms of depression, anxiety, phobias and any other behaviours that are different to normal,” she told Management Today.

Signs to be aware of could include, for example, being late regularly, taking longer breaks (or not taking breaks at all) or working longer hours. Timely, sensitive intervention where necessary and the offering of reasonable adjustments is vital to sustainable wellbeing. Feeling out of the loop can exacerbate feelings of isolation, so checking in with employees who’ve been off work for mental health reasons for some time can make it easier for them to return.

Peter Mills and Inge Schrever, doctors responsible for the Cigna Europe medical team, state that, “additional care and support should be made available to help staff not only feel valued and supported, but also to ensure that they can handle the additional challenges that changes to their daily routine can bring. Employers should take extra time out their working day or week to listen to their staff and if required, offer access to counselling over the phone or a helpline for employees to use when they need it.”

Image credit: Kosamtu via Getty Images

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