With Saturday 10th October 2020 being World Mental Health Day, HRreview asked the experts about how to ensure that employees and their mental health are supported during these unprecedented times. 

According to research by Nuffield Health, COVID-19 has had a significant toll on people’s mental health in the UK.

4 in 5 respondents (80 per cent) reported that COVID-19 had a negative effect on their mental health. Furthermore, with the rise of remote working as workplaces shut down, a quarter (25 per cent) stated that it was difficult to cope with the feeling of loneliness and isolation as they were unable to see colleagues.

Similarly, fusing home and work life together in the form of remote working has also caused problems for UK employees. A third (30 per cent) stated that they were unable to separate their home life from their work life whilst over a third (36 per cent) of those remote working stated a lack of boundaries as they felt the need to always be at their computer to respond to work emails.

Due to the unique problems caused by COVID-19 and lockdown, HRreview has asked experts for their opinions on how employers can support employees who are suffering with mental health issues or have seen a deterioration in their mental health.

Lisa Dolan, Director of Employee Engagement at Teleperformance, a business services provider, stated:

It is now far harder for managers to spot mental health problems whilst employees work-at-home hidden from view – and can easily put on a ‘mask’ for conference calls.

However, businesses can find different ways to help workers switch off from – and rise above – the Covid bubble, despite not being able to physically interact, such as offering counselling, and ‘safe spaces,’ where employees can share what is troubling them.

Training employees on how to reach out and have that difficult conversation with a manager encourages people to talk about their issues, and is an effective preventive measure. Running monthly campaigns to raise awareness on different topics, with webinars and external guest speakers to shed light on their experiences, can also greatly help to guide others.

Natalie Rogers, HR Director at Unum UK, an employee benefits provider, said:

Now more than ever, it’s vital that employers are tuned in to how their employees are feeling whether they are working remotely or have returned to the office. Symptoms of poor mental health can appear physically, behaviourally or cognitively via a noticeable dip in performance and productivity, but it can be hard to identify the signs, particularly from a distance.

The very first thing any organisation must do is listen to their staff and ensure they feel safe and supported. Taking the time to listen to individual’s feedback about ways of working day-to-day will not only ensure your team stays productive, but they’re positive too.

While GPs are generally very supportive of mental health issues, in the current climate employees with mental ill health, burnout or severe stress symptoms can face a lack of appointment times or resource. Employers can help by pointing staff to professional mental health support where they can and where it’s needed.

Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage, an employee benefits provider, said:

The pandemic has created further strain for people, resulting in greater mental health stress. This World Mental Health Day, employers need to understand the role they play and work with their employees to overcome this stress and anxiety.

One method is to train managers to be mental health first aiders, who can spot signs of poor mental health and help build a culture that encourages people to talk openly without fear of judgement. Another is providing benefits that support mental wellbeing, like an employee assistance programme which gives your people access to help and support 24/7.

Companies must build a culture where it’s okay to discuss challenges and create a space where people feel mentally safe. Staff need to know that help is there, and their employer can provide support when they need it the most.