New guidance on mental health during coronavirus from Acas

22 May 2020

Acas, the independent public body providing impartial advice to employers and employees, has published new guidance to help staff manage their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidance follows an Acas-commissioned YouGov survey, which found that some 2 out of 5 employees working from home had experienced mental health difficulties or felt stressed or anxious due to their working situation. It also found that 50% of homeworkers felt isolated and 7 out of 10 were missing social contact with work colleagues.

In terms of feeling isolated, Acas suggests:

  • talking to your manager about hours and breaks

  • sharing how you’d like to be contacted, eg more video and phone calls

  • calling colleagues sometimes rather than emailing them

  • arranging virtual coffee breaks with colleagues to keep in touch.

The Government’s statement on the easing of lockdown measures has made some staff anxious about their safety during a return to work. Acas reminds employers that they have a duty of care towards their employees and must make sure the working environment is safe to return to. Careful and well-timed communication can prevent staff feeling so uncertain.

Generally, Acas advises that during the pandemic we all need to look after our mental wellbeing by:

  • having a routine, knowing in advance what we will be doing each day

  • staying in contact with colleagues and friends

  • keeping active and exercising

  • doing non-work activities that makes us happy.

Chief Executive Susan Clews said: “Many employees are working from home for the first time during this pandemic and it is clear from our poll that it is a very stressful or anxious experience for many people. The coronavirus lockdown has created lots of extra challenges such as a lack of social contact with work colleagues, feeling alone, trapped or struggling with childcare responsibilities.

“There's also a real anxiety around the impact of the virus itself, job security concerns while on furlough and genuine worries around whether it is safe to physically return back to their workplace,” Ms Clews continued.

The Acas guidance Coronavirus and Mental Health at Work is available on its website.

Comment from CEO of Health Assured David Price

For many employers, homeworking is an entirely new venture for them to think about and is something they have had to get familiar with quickly, including best methods for managing staff in this situation.

With homeworking continuing to be highly recommended where possible and presenting an opportunity to help employers maintain social distancing, it is therefore important that they do bear in mind the mental health of staff who are working away from the workplace, especially if it is for the first time.

It is also essential not to take this guidance as a sign that homeworking should be avoided; instead, it can be used to make sure employers are getting this right and considering potential implications of it.

Ultimately, it remains up to employers if they choose to let staff work from home, but they should always be prepared to consider the benefits of doing so.