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Workplace mental health & wellbeing challenges

Posted by: Mark Burslem

In the UK, mental health is the most common cause for long-term sickness absence. Work-related stress, anxiety and depression account for a staggering 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of working days lost in 2018/2019 (HSE, 2019). Poor mental health can lead to higher staff turnover and reduced engagement.

And this is all before COVID-19! Amidst the global pandemic, people are increasingly struggling with anxiety and depression with fears around job security, the economy and disrupted daily routines.

In this blog we’ll look at what impacts COVID-19 could have on our mental health and what employers are doing to help ease these worries.

What impacts will COVID-19 have on our mental health?

It is difficult to know exactly what the impacts of COVID-19 will be on an employee’s mental health. There are lots of factors to consider and variables in play. The ongoing restrictions, like social distancing and self-isolation, are ever changing and feel beyond our control. The risk from the virus is still very real and some employees will worry about contracting the virus or passing it on to vulnerable friends and family if they come into the office or use public transport for their commute. On top of this, some people will have suffered loss during this time, often without the chance to say goodbye properly or to attend the funeral. An employee may have existing mental health issues that play a part in how they cope with things like this, which they may not have disclosed to their employer for fear of the stigma it might bring.

What is evident is that everyone brings their own concerns and anxieties with them to work. That is why it’s so difficult to assess the impacts of Covid-19; it will vary according from employee to employee. Therefore, the strategies to support employees must be both macro and micro. Come up with overarching policies to make mental health a topic on the agenda in the workplace, but also speak one on one to individuals, even those that appear to be coping, to understand where support is needed.

The Economic Situation

Due to the extraordinary circumstances everyone is facing now, it is reasonable to assume that the levels of stress, anxiety and depression will rise. Most of us will feel some level of concern over the economic situation and how that might impact our livelihood or way of life.

A return to normality, albeit under some limitations, is the only way to help the economy recover. In the UK, the government have urged employers to bring their workforce back into the office, and some business leaders have made us aware of the downside of working from home, not least the impact this level of isolation may have on mental health.

With lockdown easing and people returning to the office, this will trigger significant change in circumstances for many and employees will respond in different ways. Maybe some of your staff want to work from home instead of travelling into the office and being close to others, whereas others will have a strong desire to return to their place of work. In both cases, there’s potential for lots of change and different ways in which employees will be impacted.

The Employer’s Response

In the face of adversity comes triumph! Employers have responded to the changing needs of their workforce commendably and have adapted to suit the needs of individual employees. Those businesses who have returned to the office are likely to have implemented social distancing and published health and safety guidelines to reassure employees. At WRS, we have assessed the needs of individual employees through one to ones with our trained HR Manager and have been offering flexible working where needed to help with childcare requirements, for instance.

As the situation changes, so too must the response. It is very likely that further adaptations and a willingness to adapt working environments and habits will be needed to make sure an employee’s mental health and wellbeing is being considered during these challenging times.

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