The UK is now reported to have the third highest number of swine 'flu cases in the world, and the media has focussed on preventing the spread of the disease, however, according to AXA ICAS, it's time to look beyond this to identify the steps companies should take to mitigate the psychological impact on work and business performance.

Anxiety and stress is rapidly increasing as people are being bombarded daily with news on virus threat. Parents are concerned about their children, employees are anxious about the financial and wellbeing risks of catching the virus, while managers are worried about the impact of employees needing time off sick or to care for others who are. All this is having a significant impact on employee's performance at work and business continuity.

Mandy Rutter, clinical manager at AXA ICAS is a leading expert on trauma management, leadership/behaviours in a crisis and developing resilience to crisis situations. She is ideally placed to offer articles, opinions or advice pieces on how companies can put steps in place to deal with the deeper psychological impact of the virus on organisations' performance. She recommends that organisations should:

  • Put a plan together
    Processes need to be in place to support managers in the shift from managing objectives, targets and finances to monitoring illness, possible death and huge levels of anxiety among their team. For example, schools are no longer closing in swine 'flu 'hot spots'. Consider the implications that this could be having on parents in terms of anxiety and concern. Are any employees concerned about work closures and the impact it could have on finances?
  • Flexible working is not always the answer
    Working at home in theory is the ideal answer. But people go to work to do more
    than just earn money. They go to connect and communicate, to feel good about themselves. Therefore do not force employees to work from home. Talk to your employees about their options, some may thrive working from home whilst other may dread the idea.
  • Know your employees
    Managers need to ask employees about their family commitments, to get an understanding of their support network at home should one of their children or their partner become ill. With two working adults in a household whose job takes priority under pandemic 'flu situations? Basic assumptions about priorities, health, family life and routines may all be disrupted which will immediately cause employees to re-evaluate their lives.
  • Absence management
    Sickness absence is widely regarded as the single greatest cause of lost productivity. With one in three employees predicted to be off sick with swine 'flu in the next few weeks according to the Department of Health, it's ever more important to make sure that your absence policy is up to date and fits your overall business and operational strategy.
    Ensure you have clear trigger points for managers to take action, for example, to identify employees that are frequently off sick or are perhaps more vulnerable or susceptible to sickness. Communicate your absence policy to all employees, ensure it is followed consistently across your business and ensure that managers maintain contact with any sick employees.
  • Provide occupational health and other support
    Managers should have an open door policy for their employees to talk about their problems and concerns. However, it is also crucial to ensure employees have access to early healthcare intervention such as an Employee Assistance Programme, which offers face to face or telephone counselling services to lend personal support to employees and their families.