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Working in a pandemic: The impact on mental health

Studies show worrying statistics when looking at workers' mental health since lockdown. What can employers do to help?

We wrote previously about looking after your mental wellbeing when working from home, but now that some workplaces are reopening and a new working routine is emerging, could the impact of lockdown have taken its toll on employees' mental health? 

Impact of the pandemic on workers’ mental wellbeing

Studies have shown worrying, though not surprising, statistics on the impact Covid-19 has had on workers' mental health. FirstCare, an absence management company, found that work absences in relation to psychological wellbeing have seen a 350% increase, specifically in younger workers, since the start of the year. The IFS (Institute of Fiscal Standards) also found that the psychological repercussions of Covid-19 have been hitting young workers disproportionately. 

Further to this, they found that the charity sector has been impacted the most by mental health-related absence since the lockdown, with charity and care groups having seen a 250% increase. The finance industry has seen a 57% increase, though the NHS has seen a 13% decrease, despite the added pressure being experienced by NHS workers during the pandemic. They also note that the rate of mental health-related absence in men has seen a 15% increase, balancing out with women for the first time.

In another study by Perkbox, it is reported that 73% of respondents claim coronavirus has negatively impacted their mental health. Once again this study claims that the mental wellbeing effects of the pandemic have been the worst for 18-24-year-olds, with 31% of respondents in this age group feeling negative about their mental health in response to the virus.

Not only does the pandemic seem to have had a drastic impact on workers, but according to a survey published at the end of 2019, just months before lockdown, nearly 80% of respondents reported they would not feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their employer. 

If mental health issues have increased so dramatically in the first half of this year, but workers do not feel able to discuss this with employers, this becomes even more problematic. It also sheds some light on the rates of staff absence in relation to psychological wellbeing.

What can employers do?

  1. Develop awareness of mental health in the workplace - This includes promoting and encouraging mental health awareness days/weeks, general staff training based on mental wellbeing, manager training on mental wellbeing and regularly encouraging conversations on the topic of mental health. If employees can see a healthy attitude towards mental wellbeing in the workplace, they may be more likely to discuss issues with an employer.
  2. Train a mental health first aider for the workplace - Employers should ensure their company has a trained mental health first aider that can recognise early signs of problems and signpost employees towards the appropriate help.
  3. Offer access to advice and psychotherapy sessions - As well as medical services that many employers offer, companies should offer employees access to advice and psychotherapy sessions. When statistics show just how dramatic an impact the events of 2020 have had on workers’ mental health, it is an employers responsibility to ensure employees have access to the wellbeing healthcare they need.
  4. HR teams can take into account personal circumstances when returning staff to work - In the process of returning staff to the workplace, it is recommended that HR teams take employees' psychological and personal needs/preferences into account when making decisions. Employees should feel they have been heard and their preferences have been considered where possible.

Moving forward

Though these statistics are worrying and give us a lot to learn from in the new working world of 2020, a stronger awareness and focus on employee mental health and workplace wellbeing can only be a positive. 

If employers follow the advice studies are providing, and employees can develop a more comfortable attitude when it comes to discussing these issues, the results should provide a benefit to staff wellbeing and help businesses minimise mental health-related absences in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

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