Supporting our employees during COVID-19 at Guinness

Liz Skelton blog
Liz Skelton
Director of Health and Safety, Guinness Partnership

This week, the Guinness Partnership are celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week (opens new window). This is an important week in our communications calendar for Guinness as supporting employee and resident mental health has been high on our agenda for a number of years. As ROSPA Gold Award holders, we already have a number of initiatives in place to support employee mental health. These include having equal numbers of first aiders and mental health first aiders, a comprehensive employee assistance programme, regular communications and campaigns to proactively support good mental health and employee benefits to support work life balance.

Mental Health Awareness Week is an important week in our communications calendar as supporting employee and resident mental health has been high on our agenda for a number of years

During these unprecedented times, Guinness, like many other organisations across the country, have had to make some significant changes to the way we work. Although we had pandemic plans in place and were well prepared for COVID-19, as with all businesses the pace at which the changes were required did create challenges for us.  

Employees working in the office have now moved to working from home and changed the way they work on a day to day basis. Those out in the field are now having to cope with the very real anxiety related to the potential risk of infection from COVID-19 in their day to day work. Such change and sustained levels of anxiety has a huge potential to be detrimental to employee mental health.

We recognised the inherent risk of depleted mental health as a result of COVID -19 very early on and have been very proactive in putting in place several initiatives and communications to help employees cope. These initiatives have focused on managing the speed of change, volume of information, increased anxiety from the threat of COVID-19 and settling into new ways of working. Our objectives were to continue to keep our people engaged, help manage their anxiety and provide support for individuals who may be finding the change tough. We also recognise that mental health is an individual experience and that one size does not fit all. We have therefore introduced a range of options and initiatives to support individuals rather than a blanket approach.

Keeping our employees informed

At the start of the pandemic, we were conscious that some of our employees may be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of news and information that was available and we therefore provided advice to them around coping with this. Our communications encouraged them to not be continuously checking the news and social media channels. We also suggested that they check reliable sources of news and information once or twice a day.

One of the sources we signposted our employees to was our new Guinness Coronavirus Microsite on our intranet. This is a site which employees can access both in the office and on the go, where employees can access all the information and advice they need to support them in one place. Information on the site includes our weekly update from our Chief Executive; HR advice and support; exercises that can be done at home; good sleep hygiene; health and safety advice, including what PPE employees need for different tasks, risk assessments and method statements; and information and advice on settling into new ways of working.

Supporting anxiety around change

Our employee forum has played a vital role in keeping up two-way communication so everyone’s voice can be heard. We have been meeting with them regularly and getting their feedback and input into decisions.

In our communications we have provided advice on how to settle into new routines (particularly for those that were working from home for the first time). 

We have provided advice and support for frontline staff around PPE, including donning and doffing advice and an easy reference guide so people can see at a glance what they need. This has been supported by briefings and toolbox talks to instill confidence in the kit we are providing. 

We also set up an email inbox where employees can send any questions or concerns that can be dealt with individually, recognising the importance of getting back to people quickly with advice and support and that individuals react to situations in different ways and therefore need tailored support.  

Staying connected

Connecting with people and maintaining relationships with work colleagues is very important for mental wellbeing. We have been encouraging employees to use video calls rather than just the phone so they can see a friendly face.

We have also launched a new campaign called “We’re together – wherever we are” where employees members are encouraged to take photos of their work environment whether at home or when out and about, as a way of helping them feel connected to each other. I, for one, look forward to getting the daily email of smiling faces as it helps me maintain a sense of community and solidarity with our customer facing employees. 

Using technology in new and innovative ways has been important to us, not just for meetings but to be more social, allowing for those “water cooler” and touch base moments. Our teams have been hugely creative hosting team quizzes, Fancy Dress Fridays, and morale boosting “happy hours” where teams have non-work time chats to keep in touch. Employees have also been posting videos performing social distancing songs and sketches for residents, blogging about how they have supported customers and members of the community and sharing ideas about those little acts of kindness that support our customers and employees alike. For frontline employees we have also made apps available on a range of subjects including Blue Light discounts for carers, health advice from our occupational health provider and an app to help staff monitor their hydration and identify where they can refill their water bottles.

Support and signposting

Where employees have needed support or signposting we have provided the opportunity for them to talk to our mental health first aiders, Employee Assistance Programme and other support networks.

Our mental health first aiders have been proactive in their approach, holding virtual coffee breaks, blogging about how they can support people and providing good advice on how to look after your mental health.

Monitoring how we are doing

Monitoring the success of our initiatives is also an important part of what we do to ensure we are getting it right. We monitor sickness absence data, contacts with mental health first aiders and contacts with our employee assistance programme.

During this time, we also launched the Happiness Index. This is a live 24/7 pulse survey available to all employees. It just asks one question “How are you feeling today?” and employees can answer it at any time.  If an employee is feeling are down and needs someone to talk to all they need to do is type “call me” into to the comments box and someone will contact them as soon as possible for a chat.

So far, our data has not shown any significant increases in absences due to mental ill health, but this hasn’t made us complacent. We are continuing to review and amend our approach as time goes on so we can continue to support our amazing employees in providing great customer service and keep feeling fulfilled and engaged at work. 

For more on housing and mental health issues during Mental Health Awareness Week, visit a series of blog this week at:

And for more information and resources, visit the Menatal Health Foundation webpages at: (opens new window)


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