Covid and Mental Health Challenges in the RML Workplace

Anyone running a business at the moment understands the struggles of keeping workplaces Covid-secure. The bigger challenge many are facing is in understanding and tackling the mental health challenges that are affecting so many, particularly younger people as lockdowns continue.

From the start, in March last year CEO, Simon Kidney, has placed a high priority on engaging with RML’s teams across the country, and continues to communicate personally with everyone. Today’s letter to all staff focuses on the mental health challenges every employer faces:

Good Morning Team,

I wanted to write to you and give you a brief update regarding the ongoing Covid 19 situation internally and externally.

We are now coming up to 10 months of managing Covid and I know some of you are struggling. You are struggling without much human interaction, you are missing your families, you are missing social contact, you are struggling with home schooling, struggling with balance, struggling with a lack of, and ever moving timescales given to you by government, you are anxious, you are missing normality. The mental health challenges this is causing you is not healthy.

Yesterday we had our 4th visit from the Health and Safety Executive. It is the fourth time we have been complimented for our processes, our procedures, and, in the main, keeping environments safe and Covid secure. I’ll come on to some statistics shortly but we have a good relationship with HSE, we always welcome them to our premises and, led by the brilliant work of Matt Davies, we always welcome the opportunity to engage and strive for excellence. RML is always willing to trial different working practices “where reasonably practicable” that might further mitigate our risks.

Within the RML Group and sister companies we employ over 250 (but would be about 270 people factoring in attrition rates in the business in that time). We are geographical dispersed, demographically different and a good representation of the population as a whole. Our age range is from 18 through to over 70. We have 7 sites across the UK from Essex to Midlands, Scotland to Wales. We have people in offices, we have people on the factory floor, we have people driving lorries and delivering across the country, keeping our commitment to keep housebuilding, and the economy, recovering. We are part of an essential supply chain.

We have had, to date, 7 positive cases of Covid 19 across the work force. That is 2.59% of our workforce over the last 10 months. The latest ONS stats from December stated that ‘….figures equated to 5.4 million people in England has previously had the infection’. That’s one in 8 people in England (1 in 10 in Wales and 1-11 in Scotland) *source, ONS, further source, Sky News Since mid May we have had people back in the factories and the offices. Of our office staff we have had no more than a handful of people wanting to work from home. If we use ONS model 31.25 members of our staff have had Covid 19, 12.5% as opposed to the 2.59% in reality.  There is a balance between the Covid 19 risks and wellbeing. As a responsible employer we listen to our staff and ensure that wellbeing is top of our list. This is an ongoing conversation, where staff can, and those who want to, work from home we make that happen. We have temperature checked again yesterday and in the main the overwhelming majority of our staff do not. We must all have our own interpretation of ‘where reasonable staff should work from home’.

Factoring the 7 cases we have had to date, we know that one of those cases involved an employee coming into the work place, with symptoms, before going home. Our policies in place ensured they there was no transition of the virus and the vector of disease was caught early. Our processes work. That person has also left the business due to not following policy guidelines. Our compliance works. We set the rules, we follow the rules, we enforce the rules. We have had numerous cases of people self isolating, we have had a number of family members that tested positive but our staff members have not. By following our internal processes we have ensured that these cases have been contained. In some cases these have been wives, partners, brothers, parents. Our teams are intelligent enough and smart enough to manage the risk and sensible enough to isolate and engage with their line managers, we minimise risk as a basic standard.

I can personally count over 25 conversations I have had with individuals who are struggling.  Some seriously. Some are in dark places. I have a duty of care to try and do everything for our teams to help these wellbeing challenges. Just 25 people is 10% of our work force, facing mental health challenges. Versus the current number of 7 corona cases. On those small sample numbers we have 4 times as many wellbeing challenges as corona challenges. The feedback I constantly receive is that the work place provides relief from some of that. The structure of a working day provides relief from the ongoing social monotony. Our work family provides a place for people to engage with other humans. A basic human need. We will keep on providing this as a platform and we will keep on providing the workspace for those that want to work from it in a continuing safe, compliant and Covid secure manner.

I am proud of the way you continue to support each other, a virtual hug, a check in, a distant fist bump. I am proud that we provide a platform for people to live and not just exist. I am proud of our processes in place. I am proud of our current record of managing the virus. I am proud of each and every one of you for continuing to work and do our bit for helping reignite the economy. I believe we are nearing the end of the storm but the mental health challenges, especially in our younger generations, will last for years to come.

In the interim, keep doing what you do, keep being sensible, keep washing your hands and if you are unwell, stay at home. These are not new things, these are basic common sense things. Of which you take in your stride. Enjoy your work, keep smiling, keep talking to people and try not to watch too much tv. The countryside is beautiful, spring is nearly here and there are plenty of happier days around the corner.

You’re doing just ace,

Very Best


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