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    Back To The Office: Is The Government Doing Enough To Support Businesses And Employees

    Will businesses be able to return to a new kind of normal as lockdowns are eased, and infection rates slow down? With the far-reaching impact that COVID, Brexit, and even the logistical nightmares of the “Pingdemic” have had on individual mental health and business, it is unlikely that a new normal will be reached any time soon.
    The question is, what is the real impact that COVID and economic changes have had on businesses, individuals, and their mental health? Has government offered sufficient support for both businesses and employees who have been affected by the pandemic, and what about the stress of introducing COVID passports for businesses that are already finding themselves in a tough situation?
    In this guide, we take a closer look at businesses that are trying to return to normal trade post-pandemic but continue to be affected by issues such as Brexit, economic difficulties, logistical challenges, and mental health concerns.

    Has the Government Delivered on Its Promises?

    Businesses are finding themselves in a difficult situation trying to recover from continued lockdowns, reduced customer numbers, and even compromised productivity because of higher staff absenteeism.
    As government has recognized that businesses are unable to pay their staff salaries and benefits resulting from the pandemic, they’ve introduced the Furlough scheme. This scheme was developed to cover up to 80% of employee wages and reduce the financial burden on companies who cannot afford to maintain staff salaries.
    In recent news, the government is set to end the Furlough scheme by September 2021 after multiple extensions. Businesses will now be under pressure whether they can afford to keep their staff or have to proceed with retrenchments. For employees, having stayed at home with the uncertainty of whether they will return to work has also had a negative impact on their mental health. The Bank of England has already predicted a rise in unemployment when Furlough ends (BBC News).
    Businesses have also had to contend with the so-called: “Pingdemic.” This track and trace system released by the NHS alerts or “pings” someone who has been within 2 metres of a person infected with COVID. While the ping system was meant to protect people and reduce infections, it has caused an increase in empty stores, lower levels of production, and higher rates of workplace absenteeism as people are alerted to isolate. This has continued to place strain on businesses and its ability to maintain employee numbers, let alone its operations.
    So, while businesses and individuals continue to struggle with the economic side of the pandemic, the introduction of COVID passports presents a new logistical nightmare.
    Businesses have already spent thousands on getting their premises COVID secure, and they have lost millions in profits and operations owing to lockdowns and restrictions. The hospitality, leisure, aviation, and retail sectors have been affected the most in the past year. On top of this, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has considered the implementation of a COVID passport. This means that vaccinated persons will be issued a digital passport in which they can enter specific venues or large events. For an entertainment facility or a nightclub owner, this could be a logistical nightmare. Customers are already subject to checks before entering the premises, and adding an NHS COVID pass could simply complicate matters. Clubs are also frequented by a younger demographic, with many reluctant to take the vaccine in the first place. It also means longer queues, more cost to train staff and incorporate the technologies. Despite the pass, COVID protocols will still have to be maintained, which adds to the costs.
    But Brexit has also had an impact on trade. For UK Businesses, there is a predicted 6.7% rise in GDP over a 15-year period. Many companies have struggled to adapt with the passing of new export restrictions and concerns around inflation. This is especially owed to the UK’s changing position with the EU.
    Another factor that has not been explored by government is the long term effect of COVID-19 on mental health, including matters of addiction. How will this further affect productivity and business survival over the next few years?
    Mental Health and the Survival of Business
    Not only have businesses had to contend with the financial and operational constraints the pandemic and changing economies have caused, but also the rise in mental health concerns. More people from business owners to employees are suffering from the fear, stress, and inability to cope during COVID-19.
    Paul Spanjar, owner of the Providence Projects drug and alcohol rehab center in the UK, shared his perspective on the rising mental health and addiction issues since the beginning of the pandemic.
    “We have a mental health pandemic that urgently needs government funding, the numbers are alarming. We’re hearing reports this week of a 20% rise in eating disorders among children over the last 2 years. Furthermore, Imperial College London recently published a report in the British Journal of Nursing highlighting the mental health impact of the pandemic on Intensive Care staff – 48% of those asked, admitted to suffering anxiety, depression or sleep issues.”
    Paul added: “We’re yet to see the full impact of Brexit and lockdowns on individual well-being, but overworking, financial worries, and social disconnect will no doubt continue to have a huge impact on mental health issues and addiction rates. We’ve seen a 90% rise in calls related to alcoholism, drug abuse and problem gambling during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which came from concerned loved ones. We know from experience that those struggling with addiction can remain in denial for many months or even years, so we won’t know the full impact of lockdowns for some time yet.”
    Families are also bearing the brunt of the COVID pandemic. There has been up to a 20% rise in eating disorders among children who are being admitted to hospital for treatment in only the last 2 years. Mental healthcare workers have also reported post-traumatic stress disorder trying to manage the influx of COVID patients, extended working hours, and absence from their families. The pressure placed on ICU staff has also physically exhausted many who are also isolated and lack important social support (Imperial College London).
    What Can Government Do to Reassure Businesses?
    Businesses are contending with a multitude of challenges, ranging from socioeconomic and financial to the economic and political changes across the UK and the EU. Employees in the healthcare sector are suffering the psychological and physical impact of the pandemic, children are experiencing higher incidences of stress, and with ongoing challenges, will businesses ultimately survive?
    In the UK, the government has launched multiple schemes, including the Furlough initiative, to relieve the financial burden that has been placed on businesses during the lockdowns. Regulations concerning the creation of safe workplaces and entertainment venues have been initiated with the intention of appealing to more customers and making staff feel safe (City Life). This includes the issue of the UK wide ‘We’re Good To Go’ COVID-19 industry standard and consumer mark (Visit Britain).
    If employees are also not provided sufficient support during a time when financial assistance, such as Furlough, is coming to an end and job insecurity becoming a reality, it will negatively affect mental health, increase the risk of addiction and place additional strain on an already overwhelmed healthcare system.
    Businesses need more clarity and guidelines from the government concerning its financial support and the way forward. COVID is going to be with us for quite some time, so determining ways to navigate the challenges is crucial not only for the success of businesses, but also for the long term health of employees and their families.


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