Claire Merritt | 29th March 2021

Mental health and the workforce – COVID and employer obligations


Claire Merritt | 29th March 2021

Mental health and the workforce – COVID and employer obligations

With vast swathes of the population working from home, businesses can’t afford to put mental health low down the agenda. In our recent whitepaper, we look at what happens if businesses don’t adequately deal with mental health issues in their changing workforce – and how to prevent problems in the first place.

Overall levels of anxiety in the UK are increasing (as measured by the Office of National Statistics). Pre-Covid, the UK lost 17.4 million working days to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/20, (HSE). In the post-Covid world, this number is likely to be much higher. 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 for months and even years ahead.

What do employers need to do – or change – with regards to wellbeing policies, especially mental health policies?

As a priority all employers should ensure that they have a good mental health policy in place. This should set out how the employer will create a supportive work environment. Once in place employers should provide training to all managers on spotting possible signs of a mental health problem (which of course can be much harder to spot when employees are working remotely) so that support can be provided to employees at the earliest possible sign. Training should cover how managers can sensitively support employees that are struggling and the other support that is available within the business.

Employers need to ensure that their managers remain approachable and encourage their team to talk to them if they are experiencing difficulties. Managers should continue to have regular contact with their team to check how they are coping. They should also ensure that employees have realistic targets and understand the expectations on them and are supported in ensuring that they switch off during non-working hours.

Employers should also consider taking further steps such as:

  • Introducing or expanding an employee assistance programme
  • Providing mental health awareness training to all employees
  • Appointing a mental health champion to lead the business in changing attitudes to mental health
  • Training employees to become mental health first aiders
  • Linking with or assisting with referrals to mental health support groups in the region.

Employers that consider these key issues in their planning for the coming year will be well placed to ensure that they can put their best foot forward when we are able to start to return to normal.

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