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How can I support my employees with their mental health after Covid-19?

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One of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a renewed focus on the importance of mental health. The Office for National Statistics has found that one in five adults experienced depression in early 2021, double the rate reported before the pandemic. Social isolation, economic uncertainty, and fear of the virus itself may all lead to increased feelings of anxiety and depression. Without the support of family and friends there is also an increased risk of people engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive drinking, which in turn may exacerbate poor mental health conditions.

Many employers have recognised the importance of strong mental health in their workplace and have decided to act. According to a recent survey, approximately a third of employers have increased their support for mental health since the pandemic began. Some companies such as Bumble, LinkedIn, and Nike have given staff a week off to help combat burnout.

Our Employment Law team discusses the importance of prioritising your employees’ mental health and a variety of strategies for improving long-term mental health after Covid-19.

Why care about the mental health of employees?

Your duty to protect the health and safety of your employees extends to their mental health. Failing to take proper care could leave you vulnerable to tribunal claims including breach of contract or constructive dismissal if the employee resigns. There are also strong business reasons for you to care about your employees’ mental health.

Poor mental health can be costly to employers. Employees who are suffering from depression are more likely to go off sick, and are less likely to be fully engaged in their job when at work. According to the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD), 54% of lost working days (pre-Covid) were due to “work-related stress, depression or anxiety.” Eventually, high levels of stress and burnout can also lead to higher rates of employee turnover, costing you skilled and experienced employees.

Taking steps to protect your employees’ mental health may cause them to take fewer sick days and be more engaged and resilient at work. Making mental health a priority also shows your employees that you care about their wellbeing which may help cultivate a sense of loyalty among your workforce.

What can employers do to support the mental health of their employees?

Recent research has found that occasional nods to mental health, such as one off wellbeing classes or “mental health days” are not necessarily effective. Instead, employers need to develop a comprehensive, long-term mental health and wellbeing strategy. A good starting point in developing this strategy may be to conduct a mental health risk assessment. A mental health risk assessment allows you to identify possible hazards to your employees’ mental health such as:

  • Excessive demands during peak times;
  • Poor relationships with colleagues;
  • Social isolation from working at home;
  • Changes in the business.

As employees come back to the office and adjust to new working patterns, now is a perfect time to build a new workplace culture that prioritises mental health. Use what you’ve learned from your risk assessments to address underlying causes of stress and anxiety in your workplace such as overbearing workloads, employee conflicts, and lack of support. Educate your employees and managers on the importance of mental wellbeing and a positive work-life balance and encourage positive habits. You may consider implementing a policy that no emails should be sent after a certain time or that one day a week should be free of meetings. Encourage employees to take regular wellness breaks and to use their annual leave. Your management team can lead by example; if managers are seen to be switching off at night and taking holiday, employees are more likely to do the same.

Finally, try and build a culture of open communication with your workforce, where employees feel able to open up about their mental health. Once again, managers can lead by example by changing how they discuss mental health and depression and by having honest conversations with employees. 

Mental Health Champions in the workplace

Some employers have appointed mental health champions to help promote positive mental health in their business. Mental health champions are employees who are trained on how to spot the signs of poor mental health and how to respond appropriately. They are also trained in how to provide mental health first aid for common mental health problems such as burnout and anxiety and can signpost employees to other mental health resources if needed. Through their work, mental health champions gain valuable insight into the state of your workforce’s mental health, which may help with the development and delivery of future employee wellness programmes you may decide to implement.

If you would like to introduce a mental health champion scheme into your workplace, there are specialist organisations who can assist with this. It can be helpful to ask to speak to previous clients of the scheme shortlisted to gain their feedback on implementation and outcomes and seek your employee input in developing the scheme to ensure that any scheme selected is the right fit for you and that it is tailored to your needs. 

There is no one size fits all solution to employee mental health. Your mental health strategy will depend on your workforce, your industry, available resources, and the unique needs of your individual employees. If you have questions about how you can support your employees’ mental health, or would like help drafting an employee wellbeing policy, contact our Employment Law Team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

To receive regular Employment Law updates from the team regarding recent tribunal cases and legislation updates, you can subscribe to our weekly Employment Law Newsletter by completing our subscription form or emailing us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.