Are leaders applying the necessary safeguards to protect their staff from stress and mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Organisations worldwide were caught out by COVID-19 and had no option but to quickly respond to the pandemic in the face of social distancing and economic lockdown. Patchwork operating models were established, and now leaders need to dedicate themselves to planning for the next round of changes to stabilise business for the long term. Businesses have a general duty to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that the safety, health and welfare at work of their employees are safeguarded. These are dynamic obligations which apply equally to those who work remotely or from home, and those who continue to attend the workplace in person.

Many people are at high risk of direct infection due to the nature of their work. These include healthcare professionals who deal with COVID-19 patients and also employees who work in close proximity to members of the public. These employees are under increasing stress and mental health risks. There are also issues of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and stress for those working from home. According to US mental health survey provided by Ginger, almost 70% of employees indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic is the most stressful time of their entire professional career, which has coincided with stack increases in new prescriptions of antidepressant, antianxiety, and anti-insomnia medications.

The expectation now is that businesses will maintain a significant portion of the current status quo for the foreseeable future. It is predicted that even with the gradual relaxation of lockdowns on a phased basis across economies, there will be travel restrictions, strict social distancing rules, widespread testing and build-up of surge capacity in healthcare on the event of a re-emergence of the virus. Authorities will likely require employees who can work from home to stay at home. Governments will want to ensure that full lockdowns do not reoccur.

But employees (who have already undergone major changes to their work-patterns, tooling and communications) are yet again facing uncertainties in job security and wage deflation – many still remembering what it was like in the financial crash of 2007.

What most leaders don’t know yet are the long-term consequences to the mental health and safety on their people. Nor are leaders putting in the measures that will warn them of emerging issues before they become yet another crisis. There are serious legal, insurance, productivity, ethical and reputational consequences for businesses. Some have responded by relying on ‘Mental First-Aiders’, perhaps without realising that these people are subjected to the same system as their patients, after all, and are under-trained for what they’re being asked to do.

But did you know that it is now possible to deploy tools to accurately measure employees’ nonconscious stressors and symptoms of ill mental health remotely and at scale? An example of which is Truthsayers Neurotech®.

As this crisis emerged in early March, Truthsayers were invited by a London-based, multi-national technology company to build and deploy a contact-free, neuro-based wellness assessment across its workforce. As the company moved from predominantly being office-based (with some global remote support centres) to fully remote working, its leaders urgently wanted to understand the impact on employees and to identify critical hotspots that the leadership teams could take action on. A specific requirement was speed – for the leaders to demonstrate that they were serious about the situation, the assessment needed to be up and running within two days.

Neurotech assessments were immediately deployed electronically to employees for completion at home, and within two days the exercise was complete. The results of the assessment revealed positive attitudes towards community spirit and the social aspects of the business – a culture that leaders will nurture to encourage emotional support between staff.

Because neuro tools provide granular, correlative insights into human feelings and emotions, the results uncovered sources of stress that were common across an entire level of seniority in the business, as well as revealing that employees’ ability to cope with change effectively. Also evident was a sense of uncertainty due to unclear communication by leaders, causing doubt and disengagement. The issues were identified within very specific areas (such as communication of key decisions) and in which teams or demographics were suffering the most (such as specific age groups.) These issues were not picked up, and remained completely in the shadows, by the company’s existing feedback mechanisms.

With these quantified insights about their employees’ state of mind, leaders were worried enough to act immediately and take targeted actions to fix communications and provide better clarity over their rationale for making changes to the business. Then, longer-term plans were developed to improve managers’ skills in the foundations of change management, and coaching employees to better cope with uncertainty and managing ambiguity.

One month since the assessment, leaders are observing the benefits of their laser focus on understanding employee feelings and stress within targeted demographics and teams. Potential issues have been averted, performance has improved, and employees and management appear more energised. Leaders have acknowledged that a traditional scattergun approach would have made this much more challenging.

Conclusion

We are in a time where leadership is being tested, and employees are under unprecedented stress. The coronavirus pandemic has intensified stress and exacerbated existing symptoms of depression and anxiety for some people and causing new symptoms for others.

Leaders can now, with greater certainty, take targeted action after identifying the underlying causes of stress and dissatisfaction in their workforce, by using neuro-based tools such as Truthsayers Neurotech. These actions instil greater confidence in the workforce, even when remote, and have a measurable, amplifying effect back in through the business.

Apart from workforce benefits, failure to assess stress and mental health issues may leave an organisation open to serious legal risks. In many countries, the standard for duty of care is high – organisations must be able to show they did all that was reasonably practicable and to do more would have been grossly disproportionate to the risk.

The return on investment for these assessments are significant. They have the added benefit that they can be globally deployed, rapidly, remotely, and on any device.

ADAM Global in association with Stratagem Partners helps business with innovative AI tools to protect the interest of its stakeholders. To conduct a COVID-19 Neurotech assessment for your firm, mail us for a FREE consultation: mohammad.nibras@adamglobal.com , Ph: +971 50 224 5182

Follow ADAM Global through our website: www.adamglobal.com

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