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OP-ED: Prioritize Emotional Well-being of Staff During Lockdown

"Experience has taught me that staff emotional well-being should be of great concern to organizations," Michael Kawesa Sekadde, MTN Uganda GM, Human Resource.

It is overwhelming how much sad news is flying over different social media platforms, once the home of laughter and comedic memes. The second wave of Covid-19 has taken a toll on everyone forcing the country back to lockdown in a bid to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus that has claimed thousands of lives across the country.

Whereas lockdown might block out the coronavirus, it has affected people mentally. A report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) indicates that 5 percent of the respondents were clinically depressed. The incidence was found majorly in elderly respondents around 65 years of age and above. A significant number of respondents between the age of 44 and 54 years were also found to be clinically depressed on account of their employment status and negative changes in business incomes.

Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has also said that public health measures such as social distancing and lockdown, while necessary to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, have led to isolation and loneliness which cause stress and anxiety.

The Covid-19 pandemic is generally affecting people’s emotional wellbeing, which is described as the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.

Experience has taught me that staff emotional well-being should be of great concern to organizations. It is important to understand the challenges staff are facing. Overwhelming challenges limit the ability of staff to focus and handle their responsibilities and tasks while at the job whether they are working from home or office. Consequently, staff will fail to deliver on their duties or even those who do deliver will submit substandard work which affects the productivity of the company or business.

However, working from home puts the emotional well-being of staff at more risk of being ignored especially if the Human Resource (HR) professional is strictly work-oriented.

At MTN, the first thing we did to ensure good staff mental health was to assure them of their job security. This curb the fear and uncertainty of the staff especially during such a time when economic conditions were harsh and the loss of jobs was skyrocketing.

You can also create a mental wellbeing program to insulate staff from Covid-19 related mental health conditions. Ensure that the program is personalized to individuals as each person could be facing different challenges of their own. Avoid piling all of them together. It is high time companies realize mental health conditions are a real challenge and create mental health policy, which will house the business’ direction towards mental wealth at the workplace.

Michael Kawesa Sekadde, MTN Uganda GM, Human Resource
Michael Kawesa Sekadde, MTN Uganda GM, Human Resource

At MTN, we opted to include counseling services as part of the medical insurance scheme, which enables staff to get expert advice. When in apprehension to speak to a professional, we also encourage open communication with family and friends.

Frequent communication between HR and staff is also important in supporting staff’s mental health and well-being. Make it a point to make a phone call and check in on the state of your staff.  During online work meetings, you can take a few minutes to have personal banter to eliminate the feeling of loneliness.

During the second wave, the staff is more afraid of contracting the coronavirus, which also causes stress and anxiety.HR professionals need to guarantee a healthy and safe working environment for those staff that continues working from the office during lockdown to limit worries of contracting the coronavirus.

Strive to have staff buy into the measures and changes in the work environment as it plays a key role in unification as a company in the fight against the virus. Owing to the buy-in, MTN instituted an emergency fund with monies contributed by staff to cater for needs or daily stipend to any employee affected by Covid-19. This eliminates the fear of hefty bills in case of the contraction of the coronavirus.

While undertaking these measures, it is important to carry out a post-mortem and evaluate their effectiveness. This can be done through quick and periodic surveys with the staff. HR professionals ought to engage the staff on a periodic basis to ascertain their mental health.

Share your experience with the staff which will make you more relatable and they will be more willing to openly reveal their state of mind.

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Michael Kawesa Sekadde, MTN Uganda GM, Human Resource.

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