Libby McCaughey
over 1 year ago by Libby McCaughey

Prioritising employee mental health and wellbeing: the effects of COVID-19

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As businesses continue to struggle with disruptions caused by the pandemic, prioritising staff wellbeing is key and central to retaining and attracting employees, according to a new report. CIPD and Simply Health found 37% of businesses saw a rise in stress related absences last year. 

Stress, depression and anxiety accounts for 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of workdays lost. 

You may be under the impression that retention rates are high as candidates seem reluctant to move on and clients are keen to keep their loyal and experienced talent; however, poor mental health at work can lead to increased staff turnover and reduced engagement.

Employees already do not feel comfortable in speaking up about poor mental health and this is unlikely to change following the pandemic. Employers will need to adapt a range of measures to support employees experiencing poor mental health as a result of COVID-19 and its effects on society and the economy. 

Many companies are already planning to alter their benefits programmes with around 60% of them planning to enhance their wellbeing initiatives; and around 58% plan to ramp up mental health and stress management services.

What remains important is that people experiencing poor mental health are not labelled by focusing on a diagnosis, and instead discussions and support focus on the impact it has on them at work. 

These facts relate to a world pre-COVID-19; early indications suggest that the pandemic (and measures taken by government to control it such as lockdown and social distancing) will have a significant impact upon the mental health of employees.  

It is very likely that these mental health implications will be felt for many months or even years. As early as two weeks into lockdown, employees were reporting a range of health effects including negative impacts on mental health and overall well-being.

Employers and HR may wish to consider some of the following:

- Brief managers on the potential mental health implications of COVID-19 and their specific roles and responsibilities in relation to supporting staff.

- Communicate regularly on wellbeing and mental health support, wherever possible supported by activities that encourage physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing.

- Provide mental health awareness-raising activities – work towards a culture where it is acceptable to talk about and seek support for mental health.

- If employees are needed in the workplace, those who started work for the organisation in the time prior to (or even during) lockdown may need a re-induction into the workplace to help them feel connected and engaged (this could also help cover any health and safety changes in line with the government’s COVID-secure workplace guidelines).

Many employers are currently facing difficult decisions about their workforce as a result of the pandemic.

Unemployment can have a significant impact on mental health; research suggests that the average number of people with psychological problems among the unemployed was 34%, compared to 16% among employed individuals. Redundancies can also have a negative impact on employees that remain with the organisation (sometimes called ‘survivor syndrome’).

They may experience a range of emotions; guilt, anxiety about further job losses and stress relating to the process of redundancy had they themselves been at risk. Redundancy processes can also cause stress and anxiety for those that have to undertake them.  

Similarly, it is important to ensure employers are supporting staff returning to the workplace. It is now clear that any return to workplaces will be gradual and phased. It is likely that many employees will continue to work primarily from home for the foreseeable future.

Even if employees are not experiencing poor mental health, they may have concerns and fears about returning to a physical workplace, including using public transport or staying safe in the work environment.

The mental health implications on employees of being placed on furlough is currently unknown. We do know that periods of unemployment can impact negatively on physical and mental health. Work can provide meaning, purpose and structure. Work also provides social connection and opportunities to learn and develop, both of which support wellbeing and good mental health. Employees who have been on furlough may be anxious about the return to work and may be concerned particularly about future job security. 

“I think togetherness is something that's just really important. I don't think employers can do this on their own, neither do I think managers can do this on their own and I think managers and employees and teams and individuals, we all need to come together and figure out how to make this next stage and how to keep talking and how that dialogue must continue as we go forward” -Andrea Winfield CIPD