Friday, 9 April 2021
How businesses can help employees with their mental health
It’s now more than a year since the first national lockdown brought huge disruption to our lives. Many office workers are still working from home, huge parts of the labour market are furloughed and others worry whether their job will still exist soon. All this, alongside the continued prohibition on anything resembling a social life, creates a melting pot for mental health issues. The Chamber’s director of resources and mental health first aider Lucy Robinson explains how businesses can help their employees.
The data behind mental health epidemic
There’s no doubt the situation we’ve found ourselves in over the past 12 months, and counting, has had a significant impact on people’s mental health.
According to the most recent survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the proportion of people experiencing some form of depression doubled from one in 10 to one in five between March and June last year.
Further ONS research shows that as the labour market shocks associated with coronavirus have been felt more by young people and the lowest paid – people aged under 30 and those with household incomes under £10,000 were around 35% and 60%, respectively, more likely to be furloughed than the general population – so have the mental health effects.
Those most likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic have been adults aged 16 to 39, female, unable to afford an unexpected expense or disabled.
Other impacts have been evident in anxiety levels, which reached their highest level since wellbeing data started being collected in 2011 – with financial pressures, struggles to maintain pre-pandemic physical activity levels and an inability to enjoy normal social wellbeing all playing their part.
Employee mental health concerns
For workers, particularly those who have been forced to do their job remotely, they have been thrust into particularly alien territory.
Three in five UK employees had never worked from home before the pandemic, according to a survey of more than 13,000 workers by employee reward platform Perkbox – but now just 9% want to return to the office full time.
It also found, however, that 93% of UK workers have faced new wellbeing challenges during the past year.
While we don’t yet know the full impact from Covid-19 on people’s physical and mental wellbeing, many reports suggest these issues are set to increase, rather than decrease.
Perhaps we’re currently in a “fight” situation, where we are using our adrenaline to keep us going.
What happens when the situation becomes more manageable if we are not aware and being supported – will we turn to “flight” instead?
We can’t deny Covid-19 has been stressful and traumatic for many people and psychologists are reporting this could lead to PTSD. While this may only be in the most severe of cases, we absolutely need to take mental health seriously, especially now.
What can we be doing as employers?
Some organisations may view looking after their people as being something nice to do, an add-on to their main purpose but not a top priority.
However, research shows the correlation between caring for people in a great working environment and productivity – not to mention a reduction in absences and the ability to attract and retain key people.
Research from Deloitte demonstrated a return on investment of at least £5 to ever £1 spent on employee wellbeing programmes. Zurich Insurance Group, meanwhile, is suggesting that as people feel more concerned about moving jobs due to the current economic climate, looking after their health is an investment the company should make.
So as employers, we have a duty to look after the people that work within our organisation.
Resources are available
This could be as simple as sharing information, such as Able Futures’ guide to mental health support for people at work, to implementing wellbeing schemes with providers like Chamber patron Westfield Health.
Training up some colleagues to be mental health first aiders, and ensuring your managers are equipped to have conversations and signpost employees to the right place, would set the right tone within a business.
The Mental Health Productivity Pilot, funded by the Midlands Engine, was recently launched to support employers across the region and may be your first port of call.
But I believe the most important thing of all is to have a trusting culture where people feel safe to inform HR, their manager or a colleague of an issue they may have, rather than keeping it to themselves.
This article originally appeared in the April edition of Business Network magazine, which can be read hereBack