Supporting employees during COVID-19

BLOG ARTICLE | By The Simplyhealth Team

InsightsHealth and wellbeing > How businesses can support their employees


BLOG ARTICLE | By The Simplyhealth Team 6th April 2020

Has your company adapted? It 's been an unprecedented year for everyone. Following the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) declaration that coronavirus is a global pandemic, the UK Government raised our risk to ‘high’. In order to reduce the spread of the virus, the economy moved quickly to implement changes that had never been seen before in living memory.

We, along with every business, looked at what we could do to help our employees. This article is a few of our thoughts and suggestions for when change occurs, learnt from the coronavirus pandemic, completely appreciating that these won’t be right for all businesses.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that each employee has a different role and different family commitments. There won’t be a ‘one size fits all’ solution for colleagues. However, as a business, wherever possible we try to offer a range of options for employees with as much flexibility as practical.

Our approach at Simplyhealth has been to protect and support our people and we considered carefully how we could:

  1. Support colleagues transition to remote working 
  2. Best support our colleagues’ mental health and wellbeing
  3. Continue to develop and support our leaders and managers.

Communicate communicate communicate!

Whether your employees are in the office or they're working from home as the new normal, employers should:

  • Keep all employees updated on actions being taken within the business – regular, clear communication is incredibly important and valued
  • Ensure employees who are in a high-risk group follow social distancing guidance
  • Have up to date contact details and emergency contact details for each employee

For any employees who are still in an office environment:

  • Support managers, so they're able to effectively guide their teams
  • Observe social distancing by staying 2 metres (6 feet) away from other people
  • Avoid busy commuting times on public transport where travel is essential
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home and arrive at work
  • Provide access to soap and water for employees, and encourage everyone to wash hands for 20 seconds on a regular basis – poster reminders can work well
  • Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them

Overall, we focused on making sure we reacted quickly and changed our approaches, policies, and ways of working to suit both the government guidance and our colleague’s concerns. We communicated clearly to our people about what’s in place to help them. Now we are focused on sustaining this as we move forward over the coming weeks and months in order to maintain the positive momentum and engagement we’ve experienced to date.

Provide emotional support to enhance mental fitness

For all employees and their families, the virus affected them emotionally one way or another. This is particularly true if they themselves or a family member fell into the high-risk category. For us, it was about being there for everyone. We felt it critical to establish a rhythm of communication as we adjust to new ways of working so people have something to look forward to each week. 

Businesses can use an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to support colleagues through difficult times. EAP’s provide confidential telephone advice from trained specialists and counsellors for health issues, legal concerns, financial challenges, a relationship question, or just an everyday problem you are facing right now.  

Organise at least weekly team meetings through video conferencing software so that you can catch up with each other about work and home life. If you've got a lot of the team working remotely, why not try a ‘team lunch’ over the web. Have a natter, and get children and pets involved too. Really increasing the levels of contact and regularly checking in with people in these situations is more important than ever.

In addition, at Simplyhealth, we launched a weekly Wellbeing communication sharing general health and wellbeing advice. Topics included nutrition, resilience, anxiety, sleep and mindfulness. We also trained up a group of Mental Health First Aiders who actively support our colleagues. 

Review financial support in extreme cases

In really unknown times, like the coronavirus pandemic, the government steps in. The Chancellor set out a package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support businesses financially. This package covers a variety of scenarios for businesses including but not limited to:

  • Job retention schemes
  • Deferring VAT and Income Tax payments
  • Statutory sick pay relief packages
  • Various grants, funding’s and loans

Mortgage lenders offered three-month repayment holidays. This means that you could effectively pause your mortgage and restart it up to three months later. This allowed you to release the money that you would usually pay towards your mortgage, to support your daily living costs during this difficult time. The government also urged buyers and sellers to delay moving unless it was unavoidable for contractual reasons.

For people who rent, the government announced emergency legislation to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation during the coronavirus crisis. Landlords are not able to start possession proceedings until you have missed rent payments for at least three months. You can find out more with the Money Advice Service.

For your company, remember to promote EAP services through your workplace.  Services that can support employees with financial issues and debt worries through this difficult time and in the future.

At Simplyhealth, we offer a suite of new temporary benefits, in addition to our standard leave policies. All our colleagues can access them, supporting those who need to care for others over the next weeks and months. These include:

  • Options to buy an additional four weeks’ leave in addition to our June and December windows normally on offer – the cost of this can then be spread over the remaining 9 months of the year and has a reduced financial impact on individuals
  • Banking hours, which enables our colleagues to reduce their hours or not work at all for a while to allow them to look after loved ones, but still continue to receive basic pay. The colleague will be expected to work these hours back over an agreed period of time

What other steps has Simplyhealth taken?

At Simplyhealth, we closed most of our office buildings from Friday 27 March and moved to pretty much full home working. Two buildings remained partially open for skeleton staff and essential work, but home working has taken off.

We continue to monitor and review Government guidelines every day to ensure we provide a good service for our customers whilst balancing the care and health and wellbeing of our people.

As well as the activities outlined above, we currently have a flexible approach to homeworking, enabling colleagues to work flexible shift patterns around childcare and caring for the elderly or vulnerable. To support this we developed a Temporary Working Guidelines and share advice to all colleagues on remote working, giving some advice to help set them up for success.

We also share useful resources to provide support. Distributed through a range of media including webinars and short online books. We cover topics from resilience and home-working to nutrition and relaxation.  

Finally, we are focused on supporting our leaders. We have offered access to live webinars on subjects such as ‘Leading Remote Working’ and ‘Managing through adversity’, online one-on-one coaching for leaders, and access to online learning modules.


How Simplyhealth health plans are helping our customers

You can't forget about what the customers are going through as well. For our Simplyhealth customers and employees who have a health plan also have access to our 24/7 GP helpline service. While our GP service was not for coronavirus related enquiries, it's used for all other medical concerns. And our physio video consultation service is an ideal way of ensuring customers can maintain their progress.