Lockdown, isolation and remote working are all factors impacting mental wellbeing at the moment. But what if you are also an unpaid carer?

Since lockdown began, the number of people combatting feelings of loneliness has more than doubled to 24%, but just how far will this new dawn of pandemic and remote working affect the mental wellbeing of our employees?

All workplaces have been impacted to some degree and within a rapid timeframe. There wasn’t the luxury of planning or forecasting how our day-to-day would change. Isolation, anxieties, how we care for loved ones and the healthcare infrastructure and systems seemingly changed overnight.

Caring isn’t a new workplace consideration. 1 in 7 employees are also carers. But, with 1 in 4 employees now experiencing increased pressure to provide care during lockdown (those with children felt this pressure more, raising to 1 in 3), employers need to address this rising issue to help them remain healthy and productive at work.

Whilst the UK has adjusted and normalised to these events, what long-term risks to mental health could result from this new way of working life if we’re not careful? Although some people are returning to the workplace, most won’t for some period of time (if at all) and changes to the way we work may create additional strains for people, never mind how they will get to work.

The rising pressure on carers

For those who are remote working, the joys of monetary savings from the lack of commute and sandwich van have probably started to wane in terms of motivation. Now, the usually office-based workers have normalised to their makeshift home office but we’re starting to see cracks in productivity and engagement, especially for employee carers.

Remote working has taken away routine, socialising, lunchtime coffees and general human contact. Throw into the mix that employees may also be home-schooling kids, battling the supermarket queue in their lunchtime, worrying about job security, dealing with a long-term illness or unable to see their loved ones who are shielding. This last is especially felt by 45-54-year-olds who are likely to be caring for elderly parents who can’t shop or seek medical supplies in person, as well as their children and the dog!

On average, carers are picking up an additional 10 hours of unpaid care per week. It’s not just the physical and time elements of caring which will be causing overwhelming feelings.  41% are worried about the health of a family member, whilst 87% of carers said they are worried about what will happen to the people they care for if they have to self-isolate or become ill themselves.

Not only does going to work give carers a routine but it also provides an escape mechanism for them – especially if they live with the person they are caring for. Not having this outlet will be adding stress and frustration to their new daily life.

Additional contributing factors affecting the state of a person’s mental wellbeing can present themselves via sleeping issues, reduced physical workouts, increased alcohol and food intake and feelings of claustrophobia.

Nearly half of employees surveyed would feel uncomfortable disclosing a health concern to their employer during the Covid-19 pandemic. And most worryingly, more than 1/10 are concerned about being fired, should they talk openly about serious health concerns such as cancer, chronic illnesses or mental health problems.

impact of covid on carers

Balancing work and caring

Concerns about job security should come as no shock but with the economic impact of Covid-19 coming sharply into focus, these worries could be driving employees to mental exhaustion.

A poor work-life balance not only impacts the individual’s mental wellbeing, but so too the organisation.

The Mental Health Foundation have released the below stats on a few of the ways in which mental health impacts working:

  • Evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.
  • Increased mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.

Guidance for supporting carers in your workforce

Pushing themselves to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion is placing huge stress upon employees’ mental wellbeing, as well as affecting relationships with those in the same household. Not only will this negatively affect your staff, but so too your organisation with work related stress already costing Britain 10.4 million working days per year.

  1. Easing the stress at work. Appraise objectives regularly so they work around your employees needs and try to be flexible with absence reporting. Double check that personal development is inclusive for carers, so they don’t miss out on opportunities.
  2. Promoting a balance. How about giving them an extra 30min break if they spend their lunch helping someone or offering flexible hours or paid/unpaid leave.
  3. Are you noticing any changes in your team? Be aware and accommodating of carers responsibilities where possible. Encourage them to block out time in their diary. Create an open and safe rapport so they feel comfortable letting you know when they’re struggling or need to run an errand. If this is new to you, speak to HR about carer training or webinars to boost your confidence to have such sensitive conversations.
  4. Connecting a community whether that’s via a buddy system, carer forum or charity event.

Being a mindful employer

Over the past few years, organisations have been making strides to improve transparency with employees over illnesses like cancer or anxiety which can affect work. But the current circumstances of coronavirus (Covd-19) risks sending us many steps back and reaffirming damaging stigmas.

It’s a difficult time for everyone but additional preventative measures should be considered, and these don’t have to be costly either. Are you and your senior team leading by example? You can’t preach to the team that they should be logging off on time or taking annual leave when you’re still logged on a couple of hours into the evening. Carers are the hidden heroes and they should be a focal point on your organisation’s leadership agenda.

Being proactive with the wellbeing of your team could start from keeping track of the hours they’re online for, ask how everyone’s physical wellbeing is on your catch-up calls and ascertain whether they are more quiet than normal – if so, are they still chatting to other teammates?

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