Employers are being urged to step up their workplace mental health services to support people returning to work post coronavirus lockdown.
This call, from Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing comes in Mental Health Awareness Week.
Howden’s director of corporate consulting Cheryl Brennan says recent reports in The Lancet Pyschiatry highlight concerns that the current pandemic may have a profound effect on people’s mental health. In March, a poll by Opinium found almost half of UK adults said their mental health had been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, and one-third were worried about the future.
Meanwhile the data from Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows mental ill health (such as anxiety and depression) is already the number one cause of long-term employee absence.
Brennan says: “Lockdown is having a major impact on people’s mental health. People are fearful of catching the virus, many have financial worries and are facing job insecurity.
“With more businesses returning to work, there is a real opportunity for employers to step up their mental health support – to look at their existing benefits and consider if they could be doing more. There are so many affordable resources and apps available today to support mental health, which could help businesses enhance their benefits.”
However a separate report, from Secondsight shows there is significant disparity between what businesses think they are delivering in terms of mental health support, and the support employees feel they get.
Three out of four businesses surveyed by Secondsight, the employee benefits specialist, said they offered mental health support to employees, but more than half (51 per cent)of employees said their employer could be doing more.
One of the issues was that many employees still felt there was a stigma attached to discussing mental health issues in the workplace. The problem was particularly acute among younger workers with 48 per cent of those aged between 35 and 44 saying there is social stigma associated to mental health within their workplace. This increases to 56 per cent of respondents aged 21-34.
Brennan says: “We recommend that when people return to work, employers need to signpost mental health support services to employees. There is major business case for prioritising mental health – if issues are not handled well, problems tend to escalate into absenteeism or costly claims for long term sickness.”
A recent report by Deloitte suggested that poor mental health cost UK bosses more than £43bn in 2018. That is an increase of 16% since the last estimate of £37bn in 2016.
She adds: “Investing in robust mental wellbeing strategies will help people get back to normal more quickly, improving morale, motivation and productivity. In the longer term, it will boost engagement, loyalty and enhance future recruitment and retention.”
Secondsight partner Mark Bingham says: “It’s really important that employers understand what it is that their employees need and want. Engaging employees in benefits which aren’t relevant or of interest to them is not only very difficult but can also be a waste of time and money.
“There is no better place to start than at the top. When board members, directors and senior managers are all looking after their own wellbeing and encouraging their employees to do the same, the results throughout the organisation can be massive.
“Ensuring your line managers are trained to spot signs of mental health problems and start initial conversations with their teams, can reduce the impact on an employee and business in the future.
Brennan says that Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing offers an practical app t- Havensrock Thrive – for temployees to monitor their mental health, and help to prevent and manage stress, anxiety and other common mental health conditions. This includes access to specialist mental health support, if needed.