Blog » Employers need to step up their mental health support for staff during the Covid-19 crisis

Employers need to step up their mental health support for staff during the Covid-19 crisis

1st April 2020

Some of the knock-on effects from the Covid-19 pandemic are fear of infection, feeling isolated, as well as concerns about job or income loss – these are all likely to increase the pressure and stress people are under. Both CIPD and Simplyhealth are warning that employers must act now to prevent their employees from being at serious risk of mental ill health during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Managers need to be confident and capable to support people’s mental well-being and prevent stress during this difficult time.

However, the CIPD’s Health and Well-being Survey at Work 2020 report, in partnership with Simplyhealth, surveyed 1,018 people professionals representing 4.5 million employees and finds the majority of managers were falling short on this even before the crisis started.

Figures published in the survey show that only 31% of managers are thought to have the confidence to have sensitive discussions around mental health and signpost staff to expert sources of help. According to the CIPD, this figure has barely improved in the last four years despite many more managers being trained to do so.

Likewise, only 25% of respondents say that managers are confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health. While managers are not medical experts, the CIPD state, they should be comfortable having discussions about mental health as they are often the first point of contact when a staff member wants to raise an issue.

The research also finds that mental ill health remains the most common cause of long-term absence and is a top cause of short-term absence too. The findings show 60% of organisations reported an increase in common mental health conditions (such as anxiety and depression) among employees over the last year. The current Covid-19 pandemic will worsen these conditions for many and is another reason why employers should step up their efforts.

In response, the CIPD and Simplyhealth are recommending employers do the following four things during and after the crisis:

  1. Support and guide managers so they feel equipped to have sensitive and supportive discussions with staff members.

  2. Remind managers about the importance of communicating regularly with their team and asking how they are.

  3. Encourage staff to practise self-care such as a balanced diet and plenty of sleep.

  4. Promote existing health and well-being benefits and support.

Rachel Suff, well-being adviser at the CIPD, said:

“The Covid-19 pandemic is putting a huge strain on employers and individuals – and it’s completely understandable that for some, this situation is proving challenging for their mental health.

“With many workers now working from home, it can be even harder for managers to pick up on cues that their colleagues might be struggling. It’s really important that managers are regularly checking in with their team and making use of video calls, so interactions can be as personal as possible.

“Employers also need to remember that their duty of care for people’s health and safety carries on no matter where staff are based. These findings show that while more managers are being trained to help colleagues with their mental health, it doesn’t always seem to be translating into better support for staff. This pandemic presents a real threat to people’s mental, as well as physical, health and employers need to think about both when putting in place plans to protect their workforce.”

Richard Gillies, Chief Operating Officer at Simplyhealth, said:

“During these challenging times, it is important that leaders and managers continue to ensure that people feel looked after by their employers to help them engage, be productive and continue to have the best quality of working life possible. Having regular, open, and two-way conversations with your team is vital to protect the mental and physical health of your employees. We are encouraging our employees to use video calling so they can still see and talk to each other on a daily basis and feel part of their normal network. We are also sharing regular company updates, general advice, and free webinars to help people adapt to remote working and manage their mental health.

“Organisations who have already adopted a proactive approach to supporting their employees’ wellbeing will be well positioned during the coronavirus crisis. By making good use of initiatives like Employee Assistance Programmes that offer counselling, and 24/7 remote access to a GP, employees will benefit from additional support for their health at such a difficult time.”

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