Headspace offers free access to UK furloughed and unemployed

Headspace offers free access to UK furloughed and unemployed

After three long months of lockdown some people are beginning to get back to work, but business is most definitely not as usual. Research released in July by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that 56% of people said coronavirus (COVID-19) was still having an impact on their work.

The global coronavirus pandemic has affected almost every aspect of our daily lives, work being the most obvious one. It is estimated that 600,000 British workers dropped off the payroll between March and May 2020 and around 9.1 million people were furloughed.

Almost everyone has been taken by surprise by this unique situation and our efforts to manage this ‘new normal’ have had a big impact on our wellbeing. The insecurity and instability of the crisis with no clear end in sight is taking its toll. The ONS reports that 7 in 10 adults are currently very or somewhat worried about the effect of coronavirus on their lives.  Little wonder then, that we are seeing high levels of anxiety across the UK.

Getting some headspace

Recognising the current need for calm, meditation specialist, Headspace, has stepped in to help people who have lost work during this time.  In June they announced that they would be offering  furloughed and unemployed workers in the UK one year’s free access to their app. The app is already free to NHS workers, and this is a welcome extension.

Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, said: “We know how devastating unemployment can be, and the stress, anxiety, and health concerns that it can lead to. Obviously, mindfulness cannot change the circumstances of the pandemic, but it can help to provide essential tools for managing stress at this difficult time.”

Benefits of Meditation

The benefits of meditation are being recognised beyond the confines of fringe groups and increasingly supported by scientific research. A study from UCLA (2015) found that regular meditation can help keep our brains younger for longer. While researchers in 2014 found a strong link between meditation and the reduction of depression, anxiety and even pain. Another study found that after just 8 weeks of meditation, practitioners had improved their concentration and attention.

Headspace claims that meditation can also:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve focus
  • Boost mood
  • Increase compassion for others and ourselves
  • Calm aggression
  • Help us to work more effectively.

In addition to the thousands of hours of meditations already available via the app, the Headspace team have also created Living Through Unemployment which contains six meditations designed to support anyone currently faced with job loss. The guided sessions cover topics such as adapting to sudden change, finding purpose and recovering confidence. 

Stress Relief

Apps like Headspace provide an accessible way to promote wellbeing and meditation in the comfort of your own home. There is no need for any expensive equipment, all that’s needed is a smartphone and a few spare minutes. Which, in these uncertain times, is perhaps all we can be sure of.

Remote Support

Organisations may feel powerless to support their furloughed employees or those they need to let go due to the current situation. They, themselves, are having to grapple with the devastating effects of the crisis. Headspace offers a helpful steer to businesses that want to help their teams navigate the next few months. Letting staff know about the mental health benefits of meditation and apps such as Headspace is a great step to opening up a positive, two-way dialogue to maintaining communication and staff wellbeing.

Keeping the lines of communication open and proactively supporting your employee’s mental health are building blocks to creating a trusting relationship that will support their return to the workplace when the time is right for your business.

What should Occupational Health Professionals know about Mental Health and COVID-19?

What should Occupational Health Professionals know about Mental Health and COVID-19?

This information sheet will hopefully provide helpful information to your employees during these uncertain times.  Please get in touch with Soma for further support on 01905 422808.

Advice you can provide to staff who are worried

a. Ensure that you rely on trusted authorities such as NHS or PHE for information about the pandemic and what to do. Whilst it is understandable that people will want to watch some media reporting of the crisis, people who find their anxiety levels increase when they do so, should very much limit their exposure to such information. In an uncertain time, people should try to ‘stick to the known facts’ rather than focus on speculation and
possibly unhelpful stories of dismay or sorrow.

b. Ensure that you proactively reach out to other people and check on how they are doing. Share your own concerns with them that may in turn help them to share their concerns with you. If you must isolate yourself physically, there is a wide range of ways to keep in touch using phones, WhatsApp, Skype or similar. Physical isolation should not mean social isolation. Do not wait for other people to contact you; make a distinct effort to be
more in touch than usual.

c. Whilst you might feel that there is currently ‘no point’ in sticking to a healthy lifestyle, in fact it is now more important than ever to do so. We know that a healthier body makes it more likely you will have a healthier mind. So this is the time to get more sleep, eat better food, drink less alcohol and smoke less and to exercise more regularly.

d. If you do get to the point of feeling unable to cope, reach out to someone for help. Just because there will be many people who have physical health difficulties during the current crisis, it does not mean that those in a mental health crisis should not be cared for too.

e. Make use of trusted sources of information to bolster your mental resilience. Have a look at the NHS Every Mind Matters website (https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mindmatters/your-mind-plan-quiz/) which provides a range of information and tools that you might find useful. The Mental Health Foundation have some information which is specific to the current outbreak (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/looking-after-yourmental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak).

Advice on supporting people to stay well while self-isolating

a. You should advise people who self-isolate to stay connected to their usual social network. Furthermore, they should try to keep to their usual routine as much as possible. When limiting physical social contact, people should stay connected via email, social media, video conference and telephone.

b. Furthermore, those in isolation should try to keep to their usual routine as much as possible. This should mean working as much as they can, and this is best done through liaison with their line manager.

c. People who self-isolate should be advised to pay attention to their own needs and feelings and to engage in healthy activities that they enjoy and find relaxing. Encourage them to exercise regularly, keep to regular sleep routines, eat healthy food and limit unhealthy behaviours such as the use of excessive alcohol, smoking or gambling.

d. You should advise isolating individuals to keep repeated exposure to a never-ending stream of news to a minimum. This can cause anyone to feel anxious or distressed. Instead advise them to seek information from trusted sources such as the NHS website. They should also avoid listening to or following rumours that make them feel uncomfortable.

Healthy and Hygienic Winter Workplaces

Healthy and Hygienic Winter Workplaces

 

February can be a pretty miserable and grey month, it’s also peak flu season. The NHS lists colds, sore throats, asthma, norovirus, painful joints, heart attacks and flu as the core winter illnesses to watch out for. Cold weather itself isn’t directly to blame, but its effects on our lifestyles is. All the time we spend indoors, in close quarters with others, with little or no natural sunlight and reduced immune systems are the main culprits in the spread of illness.

The workplace ticks many of these boxes, especially those with air conditioning, which keeps air circulating and can spread airborne diseases around a building in no time.  It is estimated that the flu virus accounts for 10-12% of sickness days across the EU.

Yet there has been a dramatic drop in sick days taken in the UK from an average of 7.2 days a year to just 4.1 days (2017). Researchers say that this can’t be explained away by just medical improvements, citing a change in workplace attitudes as the main reason for the drop. Which means that there’s a high chance that increasingly people are coming into work even though they’re ill.

 

How clean is your office?

Office hygiene is a key consideration when trying to reduce the spread of illness in employees.  Joblist recently published results of their investigation into people’s hygiene in the workplace, with quite horrifying results.

The results get off to a worrying start, a quarter of respondents admitted to wearing sweaty clothes to work and almost the same amount said they don’t always remember to slap on some deodorant before they head out of the door.

When the study turns to behaviours that can spread illness things begin to get less amusing. Almost half of respondents admitted to not washing their hands before eating, although less (18%) said they didn’t wash before eating communal or shared food. Even more concerning, just under a quarter said they don’t cover their mouth when coughing and sneezing.

Between a quarter and half of women and men take their mobile phone to the bathroom and up to 25% didn’t wash their hands once they were finished.

 

Sharing isn’t caring

A huge 73% of respondents claimed they had gone into work while sick, mostly with an active cold, but a quarter came in with serious illnesses such as an upset stomach or flu (20%). Once in the office they admitted to engaging in activities that may well hasten the spread of their illness, 63% attended meetings while just over half had desk discussions and 22% shook hands with co-workers.

Combining attendance while sick with poor hygiene habits and a failure to limit social interaction is a recipe for a virus to spread fast around the workplace. This can have a serious impact on productivity and be costly for any business.

 

How to stop the spread

The vast majority of illnesses are spread through touch. In the workplace we come into contact with many items that others have also touched. The flu virus can last for up to 3 days on surfaces such as phones, keyboards, door handles, kettles, the list goes on. Luckily, while it is easy to spread illness, the steps needed to prevent it are very simple.

 

Cleanliness

Three out of five infections are spread by dirty hands, so wash hands often and well. Experts advise:

  • Washing hands in warm water
  • Use antibacterial soap
  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds
  • Rinse carefully
  • Dry fully.

Hands should be washed at the very least after every bathroom visit, before food preparation and before eating.

 

Stay away

If employees are unwell, the advice is that they should stay at home until their symptoms have gone. Encouraging staff to come in when they are unwell can spread illness across an entire company or organisation and the potential loss of many more working days. Reduced sick days may be a false economy, it does not account for presenteeism, employees who are returning to work, but are too unwell to complete their role effectively.

In some cases, offering the opportunity to work from home may be beneficial, especially when an illness is contagious but not debilitating. For example, common advice for Norovirus is to avoid contact for 48 hours after the sufferer was last sick.

 

Contact sport

If working from home isn’t an option, and even after the person has recovered, ensuring excellent hygiene where possible is advisable. Ill employees should minimise their contact with others in the workplace. They should try and keep to themselves, ensuring they cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze, preferably with a tissue which can be disposed of immediately. When hand washing isn’t an option, hand sanitizer gel can be used (although it isn’t a substitute for soap and water).

Sick or recently unwell employees should avoid sharing utensils and towels with others in the workplace. So, to make them a hot drink is more than an act of kindness, it is one of self-preservation. But let them wash up their mug!

 

Shared Space

If your organisation uses hot desking, consider providing antibacterial wipes or spray so that the new occupant can clean down the work space before use. Keyboards, desks, mice and phones are, unsurprisingly, some of the dirtiest items on a desk. The average keyboard can be host to 7,500 bacteria, while phones are home to around 25,000. Encourage employees to keep their workspace clean, dust free and to avoid eating there.

 

Healthy Lifestyle

Aside from good hygiene, a healthy lifestyle is essential to minimising the spread of any illness. A balanced diet, regular exercise, fresh air and low stress levels all contribute to an individual’s ability to fight off whatever comes their way.

Employers can encourage and support all of this good behaviour via setting good examples from the top down, providing information sheets and emails. Advising on best practice and providing reminder posters in bathrooms and communal areas. Applying standard health and wellbeing best practice to the issue will keep the office healthy no matter what the time of the year.

Setting the right tone for this year’s festive office party

Setting the right tone for this year’s festive office party

Earlier this year Bloomberg Businessweek produced a deeply critical exposé of insurance market, Lloyds of London in which they highlighted a deeply inground culture of sexual harassment and inequality. In response, Lloyds conducted a survey which revealed that 1 in 5 of their staff did not believe that employees had equal opportunities. In fact 8% reported having witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace over the previous year and 22% had seen co-workers ‘turning a blind eye’ to such inappropriate behaviour. The survey uncovered reports of unacceptable levels of inappropriate comments, worktime drinking and ‘boorish’ behaviour.

This situation is by no means isolated. Over the past few years we have heard about harassment in Parliament, Google, sport, the BBC etc. Another survey, carried out for the Britain at Work series (2017), found that 20% of women questioned reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. Potentially more worrying is that over half (58%) of women said they would not report sexual harassment. Could this be because a third of reported cases are never acted on, while 18% weren’t even acknowledged?

Following the damning results of their survey, Lloyds has taken steps to tackle the male-dominated culture in the workplace. They have implemented a gender-balance plan to promote more female representation at senior levels, they are encouraging people to speak-up about harassment they have experienced or witnessed and have created a system for measuring the cultural wellbeing of the organisation.

All good Festive Frolics?

It remains to be seen if Lloyds efforts change the organisational culture, but Christmas can be a particularly challenging time of year and they are keen not to lose the ground they have gained so far.  Ahead of the annual festive company party, on the 6th December, Chief Executive, John Neal, sent a warning email to all staff, requesting them to be “particularly careful” when celebrating with colleagues over the festive period. 

Neal said: “We’ve asked people to be particularly careful and remind their staff of the standards of behaviour that they would expect, including at Christmas parties.”

In addition to this warning, the organisation will also be providing sober chaperones to ensure these new standards are adhered to at all Christmas gatherings.

This issue is not limited to big or established organisations either. Work-related social events can prove problematic for even the smallest of businesses. The Equality Act 2010 means that employers are liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation that occur in the workplace. This extends to any and all work-related events, on or off your primary premises for business or pleasure.

Party Policy

Centuries old Lloyds of London should have had a work-related events policy in place long ago. All organisations should consider implementing such a policy to cover work-related events, parties, trade shows, conferences etc. all year round. Some aspects to consider:

  • Be clear about what behaviour is acceptable, and what is not. For example, overindulgence may be fine, but excessive drunkenness, illegal drugs, unlawful behaviour and aggressive or destructive behaviour is not.
  • Zero tolerance for sexual harassment. As Lloyds found, male-dominated workplaces can normalise sexual harassment in the workplace, but even in more gender-balanced organisations it’s essential to be clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated
  • Take allegations seriously. Offensive or inappropriate behaviour is too often not reported because there is an expectation that the business will not handle it correctly.
  • Alcohol is often the root cause of many workplace social issues. Limit the availability of free alcohol and be sure to provide plenty of interesting non-acholic alternatives. You can also manage alcohol consumption by providing regular food, so no-one is drinking on an empty stomach.
  • Don’t discipline anyone at the event. Send them home and deal with them during normal working hours when everyone is thinking clearly.
  • Get everyone home safely. The business needs to consider how everyone will get home safely from the event. Don’t let anyone drink and drive or travel alone late at night. If appropriate provide taxis or offer a shared minibus.
  • If the party or event is in the middle of the week be clear who is expected in bright and early the next day. Consider offering a late start or drawing lots for staggered start times.

 

Don’t be a scrooge

No-one is proposing the business equivalent of the Grinch, this isn’t about taking all the fun out of Christmas. Instead the aim is to proactively support everyone to have fun while protecting the reputation of employees and the organisation. Festive events, leaving parties, corporate entertaining, conferences etc can all be a great opportunity to build and strengthen team bonds. Any policy and event planning should always keep that in mind.

Think laterally

In addition to a clear workplace events policy there are other ways to keep the peace while having fun.  If traditional alcohol-fuelled events often cause challenges for the organisation, then consider other ways to celebrate.

Escape rooms, games nights, climbing walls, cinema trips or bowling are all becoming increasingly popular alternatives to the traditional office party. There are many different ways to reward employees, promote team bonds and enjoy the festive season.

It is also worth being mindful of seating arrangements, room allocation and gender balance when organising work-related socials. Considering carefully who will attend and how they will interact will ensure that everyone has a safe, enjoyable and positive time. 

The morning after

Finally, even well organised events can run into problems. In most cases, the worst that will happen is that staff may not be at their best the following day, late in or unable to attend entirely. This can be managed in the usual manner when dealing with absence or lateness.  If things have gone more seriously awry, and someone has broken the employee code of conduct, then it is acceptable to set discipline procedures in motion. The exact nature of this process will depend on the incident and its potential impact on the working environment. In extreme cases employers have been found to have fairly dismissed an employee for fighting or assault following a Christmas party.

As this article makes clear, the role of employer in the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff is key when it comes to workplace parties and events. For this reason it is prudent for organisations to have a clear and constructive policy detailing the expectations of both employer and employee for behaviour during and following workplace events.

Offering a work-life balance through flexible working

Offering a work-life balance through flexible working

 

 

When thinking about health and wellbeing it’s hard not to come across the phrase ‘work-life balance’. It’s been around long enough now that it’s not a fad and for many people, achieving the ideal work-life balance is increasingly important. Millennials are predicted to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 and they see work-life balance as a deal breaker. Which begs the question, what exactly does ‘work-life balance’ mean? Unfortunately for employers, there is no simple answer, one person’s work-life balance looks different from another’s. It covers many factors, such as pay, workplace conditions, social situation, and working hours. One pervasive topic when discussing work-life balance, is that of flexible working.

The government is currently considering whether it should require businesses to fully evaluate and publish their policies on flexible working options for job roles in a bid to increase transparency and encourage a more family friendly approach to the workplace.  Currently, there is provision in UK law for flexible working. Employees who have worked for their employer for more than twenty-six weeks are entitled to make a ‘statutory application’ for flexible working arrangements. This must be made in writing and can only be done once in any 12-month period. Employers must respond in a ‘reasonable manner’, which generally means meeting with the employee to discuss the options. Employees can also make a non-statutory request at any time, this negotiation won’t be bound by the law in the same way but will likely go through a similar process.  The laws regarding flexible working provide a minimum requirement and do not prevent businesses offering greater options or more tailored schemes as they see fit.

Despite these processes being in place, the CBI (2017) found that the number of people requesting flexible working or employers offering it has remained relatively low, with just 1 in 10 jobs advertised mentioning flexible working. In their 2019 report on flexible working the CiPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) found that although there was an increase in flexible-working options offered by employers in the run up to the 2008 financial crisis the numbers have remained much the same in the past decade. Just over a quarter of employees (27%) reported a flexible working arrangement of some sort, with an additional 18% working part-time. Improved internet connectivity has enabled an increase in people working from home, which may explain the stagnation of other flexible-working options. The CiPD report also notes that there has been a decrease in job-sharing.

There are many forms of flexible working and while most people agree that it is a move away from the traditional 9-5 working day, it’s precise form varies from industry to industry, company to company, role to role.

 

Flexible working for business

Offering flexible working options and schemes is not jumping on yet another bandwagon or keeping the recruitment agencies happy. It is about demonstrating a creative and open-minded attitude to working practices, setting you apart from competitors and attracting the best employees.

 

Unlock potential
Flexible working options can open the door to people who might otherwise have been unable to work for you. This includes people with caring commitments, those managing long-term or chronic illness, or with intermittent mental health issues, individuals with complex travel arrangements or older people. Such people are skilled and experienced and could enrich your teams but are unable to commit to a traditional 9-5 working day.

 

Welcome Women

PricewaterhouseCoopers (2018) estimated that increasing the number of women in work could grow Britain’s GDP by 9%.  Getting more women into work (or back into work after having children) will help to close the gender pay gap, a key government policy focus. The benefits of a more balanced workforce also go well beyond equality. For example some research has found that women do up to 10 per cent more work than men, while another study discovered that cognitively diverse teams solve problems faster than cognitively similar ones. Diversity is good for business.

 

Show you care

Very little says “We care for our employees” as much as offering one or more forms of flexible working. Employers risk being viewed as heartless organisations, which does little to engender loyalty. Flexible working schemes demonstrate an understanding of and respect for your staff as individuals with lives and responsibilities beyond the workplace. It shows the business to be dynamic and agile, essential qualities in today’s fast-moving world.

 

Engage your employees

Organisations that implement flexible working strategies find that their employees are more engaged and productive, while absenteeism drops. Flexible working schemes also improve employee retention, people are more likely to commit to a job that works around their lifestyle. Meaning that you, in return, can commit to them and invest in training and job progression.

 

Be more flexible

Employees have the right to request flexible working options, but businesses do not have to wait for those requests. The argument for offering flexible working is clear and while every business is different, it is well worth considering putting together a flexible working scheme. There’s no need for a one size fits all approach, you can pick and choose which option best suits your business needs and employee requirements.

 

    • Part time hours – any reduction in hours from a full 37.5-hour working week.
    • Home working – Employees work from their home some or all the time.
    • Term-time work/hours – An employee works only during school terms or works reduced hours outside of the school term.
    • Flexi-time – Hours can be added or removed from the working day and made up at another time or deducted from the wage packet accordingly.
    • Job sharing – Two people cover the same role, but each works reduced hours.
    • Compressed working hours – Fewer, longer periods of work.
    • Annual hours – Total hours for the year is agreed but week by week and day by day arrangements may vary.
    • Mobile working – Employees may work some or all of their time in a location other than the office.
    • Zero-hour contracts – employees work when required without minimum/maximum hours.

 

Connectivity is continually improving and becoming more mobile and software is being developed and honed to support remote collaboration. The potential to carry out a wide range of job roles flexibly is a practical solution to many problems. It is time that organisations across the board change traditional mindsets toward flexible working. They need to recognise that it is not only for women and parents but is something that all employees could potentially benefit from and often ranks higher than renumeration or holiday. Businesses that offer a robust flexible working scheme will enjoy greater employee loyalty, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. They will be able to offer employees an option to manage life’s ups and downs, meet mental and physical health challenges and truly contribute towards achieving a satisfactory work-life balance.