Struggling At Work? How COVID-19 Has Forced Mental Health To The Top Of The Agenda
- Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety costs businesses billions each year
- Help your employees by investing in wellbeing programs and company benefits
- Keep talking – kindness and empathy can go a long way
Through the radical changes in employees´ work and personal lives, and increased uncertainty about the future, COVID-19 is having a massive impact on employee wellbeing, especially on mental health.
With 2021 bringing the arrival of further lockdowns across the globe, this feeling of uncertainty was only prolonged further. January is always seen as the most miserable time of year, and this year was no different. Google search data claimed searches such as ‘signs of burnout’ jumped by 24% in the first weeks of January – highlighting just how much people may be struggling with their wellbeing.
Historically, employee health and wellbeing has often been an afterthought for businesses. However, there is no doubt that the pandemic has pushed it to the top of the agenda. There are many reasons for this, and some ways in which you can help those around you who are struggling at work.
One of the biggest changes has been the switch in working environments for millions of people. Overnight, offices shut, and people were forced to work from home. Many have been juggling home schooling, cramped spaces, and even noisy flatmates – all whilst trying to hold down their day jobs.
As well as worrying about catching COVID-19, it is clear that each individual has had to endure major upheaval both personally and professionally. This is not only detrimental to the individual, but the impact on businesses will also be severe.
“Poor mental health will lead to a decrease in employee satisfaction and commitment, and an increase in deviant behaviour” says “Poor mental health will lead to a decrease in employee satisfaction and commitment, and an increase in deviant behaviour,” says Dr. Argyro Avgoustaki Professor of Management at ESCP Business School. “They will also experience negative firm outcomes such as lower productivity, sales, and financial performance”.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, a staggering 70 million work days are being lost each year in the UK due to sick leave being taken due to mental health concerns. This is costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.
So could companies be doing more to deal with this mental health crisis? According to a recent report, only a third of businesses are concerned about the impact of lockdowns on employee mental health, and only a quarter of businesses are actually providing mental health support to employees during the pandemic.
But this doesn’t have to be the case – and there are ways to ensure you can help your employees during this difficult time.
Dr. Avgoustaki suggests that if an employee expresses feelings of stress, depression or anxiety, there must be a number of mechanisms in place in order to address these issues, and managers must be able to understand their employees on an individual basis. “The times when employers could rely on a one-size-fits all approach are ending, with employees progressively requiring and employers offering more customized arrangements,” she says, advising that, supporting employee mental health and well-being should not just be for times of crisis, but as part of a long-term strategy within organisations.
For example, Dr. Avgoustaki believes that HR should offer wellness programs that include mental health benefits to help ensure employees have access to the type of care needed to prevent, treat, or manage psychological distress and burnout. Companies should also consider that people’s priorities have changed since the pandemic. Potential and current employees now value different perks and benefits in their work, for example; flexible working hours, access to sufficient technology, and wellbeing programs are seen to be significantly more important to people than the more basic employment perks of free food and drink in the office, for example.
And offering such incentives and support could return fantastic results. By taking note of the changes in people’s lifestyles and, subsequently, their preferences and values so that they can provide more tailored benefit packages, organisations will be better able to not only retain staff, but gain a competitive edge.
At the very core though, it is all about kindness. Dr Avgoustaki emphasises that in the virtual world we currently live in, it is sometimes hard to understand what people are going through ‘behind the scenes’. She advises that checking in with employees, staying engaged with them and asking questions – even a simple “how are you?” can go a long way.
We live in an unprecedented time and no one is certain as to what the future holds. What is certain though is that employees will need much greater long-term support from their employers as they continue to work in unstable or uncomfortable environments. This is not only crucial to individual success, but also for businesses as a whole.