Why you should be asking employees “how” they are doing, instead of “what” they are doing

Wednesday January 20, 2021

Whether or not you believe in Blue Monday or the January Blues, a combination of less than favourable circumstances do make this a difficult time of year for many people.

Reduced daylight hours, bitter temperatures and a stretch between pay days, can lead to feelings of deflation, low mood, and a lack of motivation.

The continuing coronavirus pandemic and current lockdown with school closures adds considerably more pressure. You may find even the most optimistic members of your team to be subdued.

Whilst the prevalence of a pandemic means that many people experience hardship at the same time, personal circumstances and experience will vary, meaning some will struggle more with their mental health than others.

Your role in workplace well-being

Firstly, as an employer, you have a duty of care to protect employee mental health. This involves proactive management of work-related stress, which for some can be the tip of the iceberg.

Secondly, happy and healthy employees give your company culture a boost, increasing the chances of an attractive and prosperous place of work.

The difficulty can be that not everyone is comfortably vocal about their struggles. A stigma attached to showing weakness at work can result in you having to guess how and when to help those in need. This can leave you and your employees open to risk.

To keep your business working well, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the signs and symptoms of poor well-being, as well as the most fitting solutions.

Spot the signs of an employee in distress

The following should raise a flag to check-in with an employee to see if they need support.

  • Repeated mistakes
  • Lack of focus or poor concentration
  • Acting out of character
  • Fatigue / low energy
  • Increased absences

An inexperienced manager may see these as reasons for a disciplinary. Given the current climate, we would advise an unassuming chat to try to get to the root of the problem first.

Collect data and keep a record

There has been a reported increase of employers seeking spy software to monitor employees working remotely during the pandemic. Although this may give more insight into how and what they are doing, this isn’t what we mean when we say collect data and keep a record.

Why not? Because such surveillance can damage the employer-employee relationship and end up harming workplace well-being.

So what do we mean? If you want to get an overall picture of the happiness levels of your staff, you could consider a confidential well-being questionnaire. This can be done at any time but may be particularly helpful to inform your decision making: For example, bringing staff back to work when the time comes. It also makes a useful touch point with those who are furloughed.

Nowadays you can find apps and devices that provide a similar function, allowing employees to report their mood in what some may find a less awkward manner.

Find solutions and assist

After assessing the situation by spotting the signs and collecting data, what should your next steps be to address low morale? An action plan that includes the following is a great place to start.

  1. Be approachable – Let employees know that your door (even a virtual one) is always open.
  2. Free up time to talk – Block out some time in your diary for 121s. If you have concerns about an employee, use this time for an informal chat to understand more.
  3. Circulate resources – If you have an Employee Assistance Programme make sure staff are aware and can gain access. Further mental health resources can be found online.
  4. Lead by example – Are you taking regular breaks and managing your own mental health? Employees will follow your lead and your business needs you.
  5. Ask for help – This is a sensitive subject and an emotionally charged time for a lot of people. If you want to double check your actions with a professional HR advisor, know that we are only a phone call away.


Preventing People Problems

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