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Managing mental wellbeing when returning to work

IOSH’s latest free Covid-19 webinar explored how to tackle the many psychosocial impacts now affecting employees as organisations begin encouraging people to go back to their workplaces.

The tenth webinar in our global Covid-19 series, Covid-19: Managing mental wellbeing when returning to work, on Thursday 4 June, brought together speakers from the British Psychological Society, Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Mind – the mental health charity, and leading contractor Skanska.

Presenters examined how mental ill-health challenges are increasing again as people battle anxieties linked to ongoing fears of coronavirus, plus new anxieties associated with returning to work. They explained situational and psychological factors influencing this and recommended ways to mitigate risks and help people.

Over 700 delegates from around the world gained insights into these effects from complementary perspectives with recommended sources of information and advice as well as examples of what Skanska has already designed and implemented for its workforce.

Host Duncan Spencer, IOSH’s Head of Advice and Practice, began by highlighting the vital role of OSH professionals during this Covid-19 pandemic and the part this webinar series has played in beginning to report emerging risks as well as sharing good practice worldwide.

He noted that the webinar we hosted on 16 April – on Current risks, challenges and practical measures in protecting health workers responding to Covid-19 – heard from Professor Claudio Colosio, who works in two hospitals in Milan, Italy that dealt with high levels of Covid-19 and cases among healthcare staff.

Along with clinical and infection-risk challenges they were tackling, Professor Colosio also reported growing signs of mental ill health in the later stages of this crisis. Health worker exhaustion and burnout was becoming an ever greater risk and reality and would become more serious longer-term. His concerns were backed up by all other speakers.

Duncan also referred to evidence collected last week by King’s College London and pollsters Ipsos MORI that more than half the UK population have been struggling with sleep during the lockdown; a sign of stress related to many factors and something that will only add to the psychological burden impacting employees and their families.

Sharon De Mascia, Co-convenor of the Psychology of Health and Wellbeing Group for the British Psychological Society, set out recommendations for what ‘returners’ to work need, impacts of self-isolating, the ongoing effects of recovering from Covid-19 and a series of stress factors that will influence what managers and employers need to do.

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, revealed survey results that show widespread psychological effects on UK adults including, by week 5, worse mental health and feelings of loneliness and pessimism. Returning to work was emerging as a source of anxiety, and she highlighted Mind guidance and recommendations for how employers can and should support their staff.

Peter Kelly, Senior Psychologist in the HSE’s Health and Work Unit, showed an insightful graph – developed for the armed forces – which shows the usual course of stress reactions to change and challenge which is a reliable predictor of emerging psychosocial risks. He also highlighted HSE resources such as its Talking Toolkit to help managers support their people.

Finally, Tricia O’Neill, UK Head of Occupational Health and H&S Education & Competence for Skanska, outlined the programmes she put in place to prepare the business, prepare managers and HR – including their use of WrAP, the Workplace Adjustment Plan, and preparing people, helping to give them coping strategies.

Finally, the panel answered many useful questions from those attending. Fully 96% of those who responded to the survey rated it 4/5 or 5/5 and some wrote afterwards to give more positive feedback: “I thought this was one of the best webinars I have attended”.

To watch Covid-19: Managing mental wellbeing when returning to work in full, click here. Links to the recording, all its presentations and previous webinars in the series are here.

You can register for IOSH and Saiosh Global Working Collaboration – Sharing knowledge to improve the OSH profession here.

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