Protect your vulnerable employees during isolation

How we work has changed – quickly and intensely.

These past two weeks have seen a seismic change in how organisations, employees and our nation operate, as we collectively tackle the Coronavirus. Businesses are under increasing strain to keep afloat and maintain operations but on top of that, people faced with critical illness have additional anxieties and questions which need to be addressed.

The news channel is changing on an hourly basis. There is no rule book to pick up and flick through. But what we can agree on is that organisations, HR and managers will need to offer more help and support for their vulnerable employees, as well as giving their people the room to settle into this new environment. Your vulnerable teammates may currently be living with a critical illness or have the additional responsibility of caring for someone.

Throw work, childcare, home schooling and personal health and wellbeing into the mix and we have a cocktail of emotions, challenges and worries.

The business cycle of Covid-19

Stage 1: adjusting

The initial phase will largely consist of practical issues. Can everyone access their documents, network drives, emails? Is their connectivity ok? Which communication channels should they use? Once these hiccups have been sorted, employees will start to settle into their new environment.

To make this as seamless as possible, employees and management need to be on the same journey making a collective effort to stay in touch, adapt to new processes and most importantly, feel comfortable in raising issues they come across.

Vulnerable employees need to remain at the forefront of your thinking here. Those undergoing treatment may need to be on even tighter lockdown than you and other members of your team. They will need to be extra vigilant, steer clear of people outside of their own home, may be unable to do their own shopping or even go outside for a bit of exercise simply because they can’t risk it. This rapidity of change isn’t always easy and additional emotional support and practical advice may be needed to help with overwhelming feelings of being out of control.

Stage 2: normalising

Some companies will already be getting used to these new ways of working but we foresee this normalisation stage continuing for 4 to 6 weeks. During this time businesses will be finding ways to overcome challenges and continuing to nurture their workforce.

For your employees who are going through the strain of treatment or caring for a vulnerable dependant, try to maintain regular contact through 1-2-1s. Ask them how they’re coping. Is there anything you or the rest of the team can do to help ease things? How about having a chat on WhatsApp or sending a text? Or a virtual cup of coffee? It may sound a little awkward but it’s about protecting time for them to discuss any concerns or worries they have about work or their personal life and finding ways to replace informal catch ups that our physical working environment enabled.

Be cautious that you don’t fall into the trap where these new ways become familiar and stagnant as soon as the novelty of a 30 second commute wears off. Ensure contact and support remains consistent during isolation and beyond. Your good intentions need to continue.

Be mindful that an employee may be using their time allowance outside to deliver shopping or medical supplies to another vulnerable person. They may be away from their laptop slightly longer over lunch because they’re checking in or collecting a shopping list. Ensure your employees feel comfortable and assured that you understand that they are coping with more than simply adjusting to WFH.

Stage 3: sustaining

After the above stages feel like they’ve been successfully tackled you can look to the future and focus on performance management, morale and employee wellbeing.

Which cues can you keep an eye on? Is someone taking an unusual number of sickness days? Are they still chatty on calls? Long-term isolation will have massive implications for mental health, especially so for your vulnerable staff.

For those with an illness, be mindful that their treatment may be halted or changed in the midst of what’s going on which could be causing immense emotional as well as physical difficulties. Last minute medical appointments or medicine collections may be required throughout the duration of this pandemic. Support their need to take time away if they’re feeling below par or if they need longer to incorporate their current or new treatment plan into this new environment.

Hospital appointments may be changed to telephone discussions so ensure they know they can fit these around their work schedule. If you need to include them in a meeting, then check their outlook calendar to ensure they haven’t blocked time out for private appointments. Don’t increase their stress levels by having them explain why they can’t make a particular time.

Remember to review your (by this stage) established approach. Does it still work for your team? Do you need to dial down the amount of check-ins? Are people still coping? Do you need to make any changes or adapt what you’re doing? Keeping atop of performance and functionality will enable you to identify if the support your team is getting is still relevant.

Your organisation is a community

Supporting your people will give you and your organisation the best chance of bouncing back when this is over. The future might be uncertain, but open communication, transparent policies and looking after the wellbeing of teammates will prove hugely beneficial both now and into the future.

Check out our website for regular tips and insights on supporting your vulnerable employees at this crucial time.

Experts in delivering support services to vulnerable people remotely

Reframe is a different kind of healthcare company that’s on a mission to transform the individual’s experience of healthcare systems in the UK and beyond. We provide practical, emotional and clinical support to over 150,000 people in some of Europe’s biggest organisations.

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