The workplace can be a source of anxiety for millions of professionals worldwide.

According to the Government’s own research, 44% of all sick days in the UK are lost to mental health issues, whilst over 60% of workers have admitted to feeling anxiety and depression due to their profession.

And in the current coronavirus outbreak, worker anxieties are sure to be raised significantly. As leaders, it’s our job to ensure that all panic is subdued, and that people feel empowered to continue their roles without incapacitating mental health issues – even whilst mitigating potentially stressful decisions such as reducing work hours.

So how can employers plan and prepare for a potentially reduced workforce while keeping spirits high and easing the burden for their teams against a backdrop of angst and uncertainty? Sodexo Engage research has found that the below are some of the most effective ways to achieve this.

Effective working from home 

Recent government advice strongly suggests working from home if you can, which means it’s set to become the new normal for a while. Many companies already have a work-from-home policy in place, but for others it’s a new frontier. Be sure to check in with individual employees to see if they have the equipment, internet connection and space to work from home. Technology can be troublesome even in the office, but it tends to wreak havoc when all the team is in different locations. Microsoft Teams going down recently is an example of the challenges that may lie ahead as systems become overloaded. As a start, laptops, mobiles and a shared drive to upload folders will all facilitate the working from home process. Make sure any specialist systems can be accessed from home too.

For some members of staff, remote working may not be conducive to productivity. Helping staff to establish a good routine for themselves can help enormously. Encourage them to dress for work and adhering to their usual hours as they would normally is a good place to start. Having regular phone or video contact with colleagues can help reduce any feelings of isolation.

Communication is key

When the going gets tough, it can be easy to let communication fall by the wayside as people bury their heads in their workload. But if staff are stuck in the same room all day with little contact with the outside world, team morale can fall quickly. Frequent communication is a major contributing factor influencing employee engagement, so make a point of checking in with your staff; a phone call goes a long way as it provides a level of interaction that an email or instant message doesn’t.

Statutory Sick Pay

As part of the communication efforts, make sure staff are in the know about changes in policy whether that’s the company policy or official government guidelines. During the Budget, it was announced that those eligible and self-isolating will receive Statutory Sick Pay, so if your office remains open, it’s worth reassuring staff that if they feel unwell they can stay at home without worrying about their finances.

Prepare to be flexible with parents

The school closures will throw up yet more challenges for parents. It won’t be easy to be quarantined at home with bored and combatant youngsters to deal with.

It’s worth checking in with any employees who are parents of small children to reassure them and let them know you’ll be accommodating. This might mean more flexible hours or being mindful that even if the office stays open, parents of young children will still have to work from home. Extend support and listen to your employees.

Keep your team in the know

Finally, make sure you’re always monitoring the latest government advice and keeping your employees updated. Send frequent emails with status updates and touch base with staff members, so they don’t feel adrift.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: “Everyone at some point in their lives will be affected by poor mental health, whether that’s through personal experience or supporting someone else. As a country we are talking more openly about mental health. But there’s much more employers can do to create inclusive cultures where people feel able to be themselves.

“Culture change starts at the top. Encouraging people to talk can help remove the stigma around mental health and people are more likely to seek the support they need, when they need it. It is particularly vital at the moment that people feel able to reach out for help.”