Over the past few months, businesses and their employees have needed to rapidly adapt to new ways of working. For those working from home, there have been multiple challenges – from grappling with new technology, to feeling isolated from colleagues and needing to juggle home-schooling their children with staying on top of their work responsibilities. Furloughed employees have needed to adapt to being at home with broad restrictions on their everyday activities and no work to occupy them.
For employees, self-employed people and business owners in most industries, there has been a lot of uncertainty to deal with, including financial worries in the present and concerns about future business viability / job security. In the last month, we have seen major employers in our region announcing large scale job losses. Meanwhile, as lockdown restrictions begin to ease across the country, many workers will have concerns about returning to their workplaces or to face-to-face meetings. These are all valid concerns that are likely to have an impact on the mental health of many.
The business case for investing in mental health
Before Coronavirus, a quarter of people experienced mental health issues each year, and up to three quarters of people with a diagnosable mental illness received no treatment whatsoever. Mental health issues have a big impact on businesses: 72 million working days are lost each year at a cost of £34.9 billion. Sadly, approximately 300,000 people with long-term mental health conditions lose their jobs every year; that’s twice as many as those without a mental health condition.
With the impact of Coronavirus, it’s difficult to know what the figures will look like, but they are likely to go up. Additionally, with higher levels of anxiety, stress and depression likely due to the current situation, there is also the risk of increased productivity loss through ‘presenteeism’ – where people are unwell but at work. Prior to Covid-19, this already cost businesses £15.1 billion a year (a more recent report, published in 2020, puts this figure at £26.6 to £29.3 billion).
On the flip side, the latest research shows that for businesses investing into the mental health of their employees, the average return on investment is £5 for every £1 spent, with figures as high as £9 for every £1 spent in some cases.
Some things you can do as an employer to support your employees’ mental health
- Be open with your employees about any plans for returning to business premises and what safety measures you have in place and the risk assessments you have carried out.
- Listen to any concerns your employees may express and genuinely look to find solutions together.
- Some employees may be keen to return to a working environment where they can interact with other people, while others may be worried. Look for ways, where possible, to accommodate both. This may also give you more space to implement social distancing, if you don’t bring everyone back to your business premises straight away.
- Consider investing in some mental health training to improve line managers’ awareness of mental health warning signs and how to offer support (see research showing the likely return on this investment).
- Find out whether any of your staff (they don’t need to be line managers) would like to become Mental Health First Aiders. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about Mental Health First Aid Training.
- If you are working remotely, encourage voluntary social video meetings during working hours so the team can stay connected.
- If you are working from business premises, be flexible and understanding of the needs of employees chat to each other. It is during these informal chats that they can share any worries, concerns or anxieties and can look out for each other and spot signs of struggle.
- Provide your staff with information about how to look after their own wellbeing, for example by sharing the “5 steps to wellbeing” with them.
- ACAS also offer additional useful suggestions.
Some things you can do to look after your own mental health as an employee, business owner or self-employed person
- Integrate the “5 steps to wellbeing” into your life as much as you can. You don’t have to do everything at once, but try what works for you and gradually build it up.
- Differentiate between working days and non-working days. Take time out from work, which is particularly important if you are working from home.
- If you are working from home, if possible, designate a dedicated area as your work space so you are effectively still “going to work” and you can “leave work” at the end of your working day. If your working and living space are the same, pack away your work things at the end of your working day.
- Consider deactivating work e-mails from your phone.
- Take frequent short breaks away from your desk to have a little walk around your office or home and have a stretch.
- Stay well-hydrated – and don’t just drink coffee/tea.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Talk to friends and family as often as you can, even if you can’t see them in person.
- Laugh regularly – watch comedy films and funny YouTube clips, look for the funny side in everyday situations, share jokes.
- If you feel you need some help / support, reach out. You can contact us for more information or talk to your GP for advice.
Don’t leave mental health to chance – take action
While businesses have many competing priorities to contend with at the moment, they cannot afford to ignore the importance of supporting their employees’ mental health. Whether you employ 10,000 people or work for yourself, learning about good habits that support mental health and where to access support is essential. As an employer, you can support your employees by ensuring your line managers, HR personnel and individuals have the necessary training to look after their own mental health and recognise the signs when colleagues may need help, knowing how to initiate conversations around mental health, offer support and where to signpost for additional help.