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Protecting employees mental health and wellbeing in the coronavirus climate

Almost half of people in Great Britain reported a ‘high’ rating of anxiety at the beginning of lockdown, as opposed to only 21% at the end of 2019, with feelings of happiness and life satisfaction reported as significantly lower than before the coronavirus outbreak, with the most common concerns being work, wellbeing and finances.

The symptoms of anxiety are clearly more pervasive now. Employers will to need to formulate plans and processes for both identifying mental health issues and ensuring staff wellbeing, to avoid adding another pressure on an already difficult working environment. Although mental health and wellbeing may be seen as yet another employer responsibility, created by coronavirus and a suffering economy, employers have an existing “duty of care” to their employees. This duty requires employers to take reasonable measures to support employees’ health, safety, and wellbeing.

However, a study by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health showed that only 31% of managers feel they are sufficiently trained to recognise the signs of mental ill-health, and 57% said their organisations offered no mental health and wellbeing support or training for managers. Below are some suggestions as to how employers can better engage in employee wellbeing:

  • Encourage discussions about mental health in the workplace. This helps break down taboos around the topic and can help employees feel more comfortable broaching mental health issues with their employer.
  • Managers need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to identify and manage the signs of mental ill health such as changes in the standard of work, low mood, increased sickness absence and a lack of concentration.
  • Managers should set aside time for conversations with employees who appear to be struggling. Scheduling regular catch-ups allows for concerns to be identified early on, before they become significant.
  • Managers can help make referrals to occupational health experts where available and where appropriate.
  • Where employees are suffering because they are working from home or on furlough, with limited social interaction, employers could offer opportunities to socialise with colleagues via video calls.
  • Some employees will have severe concerns about the virus itself. These concerns should be listened to and managers should consider whether any adjustments can be made to the employee’s working day or their working environments, to help alleviate these concerns.

Almost half of people in Great Britain reported a ‘high’ rating of anxiety at the beginning of lockdown.

Successfully managing mental health and wellbeing issues has many knock-on positive effects. Higher levels of employee wellbeing are known to lead to improvements in employee engagement, productivity, organisational culture and absenteeism. Poor mental health on the other hand can be costly; calculations have shown that the economy lost roughly £25 billion due to mental health related absences last year.  Unless managed carefully over the coming months, the cost this year could be even higher.

Should your organisation’s management benefit from mental health and wellbeing training, contact our employment law team. We are able to offer bespoke training, specific to your organisation’s needs.

*The Office for National Statistics

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This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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