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Coronavirus and the impact on employee mental health: panic attacks, anxiety and boredom

During the SARS outbreak of 2003, businesses committed quickly to prioritising employee health; travel and absentee policies were revisited and revised, and most large organisations implemented robust business continuity and crisis management planning to ensure they survived the outbreak.

Mental health, however, was rarely, if ever, addressed. Even now, there is little information on the toll pandemics take on employees, and the Coronavirus outbreak is happening at a time when employers are becoming increasingly aware of how to prioritise employees’ emotional and mental health as they do their physical wellbeing.

Occupational health experts are beginning to prepare for a global pandemic. Along with the hand sanitisers and face masks, they need to start thinking about how to support employees emotionally as well as physically.

There will undoubtedly be a great deal of anxiety and panic over the news; a brand-new global pandemic, whatever the fatality rate, will have an impact on employees. Everyone has access to 24-hour news, analysis, speculation and rumour. It is vital that organisations guide their employees towards reliable, panic-free and updated information flows. Immediate and consistent information will do a great deal to minimise the growth of unsubstantiated rumours spreading and causing unnecessary guesswork and conspiracy theories which in turn lead to loss of productivity and employer credibility.

It is important too to be aware of those employees who will need extra support during the pandemic, and to be aware of the likely increase in panic attacks, anxiety and depression. HR professionals should look at their remote working and travel policies to offer the most appropriate way to ensure minimum stress to vulnerable employees.

Particular attention to employee wellbeing should be paid during any instances of self-isolation. Time alone, especially of uncertain length and outcome, may well trigger serious mental health issues, from anxiety to suicidal thoughts, so ensure your communications and support are adequate. At best, self-isolation leads to boredom, loneliness and anger.

All these issues should be covered by a robust mental health policy.

Need help with your wellbeing policy?

The BFI wellbeing series has both a Coronavirus update as well as an event on building a mentally healthy workplace. Bringing together practitioners and experts from leading thinking and practice in the field, this critical day will share the latest thinking in how to support employees right now as well as look at what leading organisations are doing to give critical support to their staff in the long term.

REGISTER for the ‘Building a Mentally Healthy Workplace Conference’ in London on Thursday 21st May: www.bfi.co.uk/building-a-mentally-healthy-workplace-conference