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COVID-19: supporting employees with mental health issues

5 min read | 9 September, 2020 By Nick Hardy


It was great to see that the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) recently wrote an open letter to The Times newspaper in which they pledged their commitment to supporting people who are suffering from mental health issues, during a time when many are preparing to return to their workplace.

The letter was countersigned by 33 leading businesses and organisations (including Mind, the IoD, FSB and CBI) who share the CIPD’s dedication to prioritising mental health, after research revealed that more than a third of employees are currently struggling.

The current landscape

The CIPD’s key recommendations

The six standards of the Mental Health at Work Commitment

Why company culture is so important

Towards a brighter future

Additional resources for your business

The current landscape

A survey of more than 16,000 people during lockdown conducted by the charity Mind has revealed that 35 per cent of people in work would describe their mental health as being poor or very poor.

The survey also revealed that returning to work is causing UK employees to feel, nervous, worried and anxious. A recent People Management article revealed that half of employees are reluctant to return to work, despite firms spending millions on preparations.

Furthermore, research we carried out recently revealed that 88% of staff are anxious about using public transport to get to work. We reported our findings in a post about creating effective back to work policies.

Clearly, many business leaders face the challenge of encouraging their team members back to work, many of whom are reluctant or who are suffering from poor mental health. We must also remember that many business leaders are currently under a huge amount of pressure themselves at a time like no other.

So what steps should businesses take to support people – employees and managers - who are suffering from mental health issues?

The CIPD’s key recommendations

The CIPD’s open letter to The Times included the following statement:

“We are now asking businesses of all sizes to put employee mental health at the heart of the recovery discussion. To do this, employers need to prioritise psychological safety as well as physical safety.”

The letter went on to suggest that employers can begin their support program by:

  • Signing up to the Mental Health at Work Commitment
  • Reviewing the mental health support provided to employees and making sure it is fit for purpose in response to the impact of coronavirus, including in relation to employee assistance programmes.
  • Visiting www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk to access quality assured information, resources and toolkits.

The six standards of the Mental Health at Work Commitment

The Mental Health At Work Commitment is made up of six standards, which draw on best practices identified in the Thriving at Work review, an independent report commissioned by the government. These include:

  1. Prioritise mental health in the workplace by developing and delivering a systematic programme of activity
  2. Proactively ensure work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health outcomes
  3. Promote an open culture around mental health
  4. Increase organisational confidence and capability
  5. Provide mental health tools and support
  6. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting

Why company culture is so important

 At the beginning of the pandemic, just as businesses were making plans for enabling their people to work from home, we published our 2020 Culture Economy report. Based on research which looked at the extent to which employees trust their employers, the report also included recommendations developing positive cultures which put people first.

As a time when many businesses are struggling, cultural development may not seem like a priority but we believe the opposite is true. For employers to effectively ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ their team members back to the workplace against their will, transparency, trust and communications are all key.

Managing and supporting people who are nervous or anxious about returning to the workplace calls for careful planning. Employees need to understand the steps their employers have taken to ensure they will be safe and that their wellbeing is genuinely a high priority. Trusting an employer to do the right thing and handle issues in a responsible way is key to building trust and reducing current fears which could be contributing to poor mental health.

Towards a brighter future

Hopefully, the future will involve successful employee health and wellbeing systems and policies that will continue to support people and treat them as more than commodities. If it wasn’t before, mental health should become an important consideration for employers. Part of this is recognising its relationship with physical health as something that impacts how employees work.

Irrespective of the work setting, people’s needs will be taken into consideration and staff will feel comfortable enough to be truthful about how they are coping and raise concerns where appropriate. Really, this should be possible within every positive company culture.

Additional resources for your business

 We work closely a number of mental health and HR experts and in collaboration with them, we have produced a number of resources which you may find useful. These include:

The People Project – a series of podcasts which include discussions between Breathe’s CEO, Jonathan Richards and some of the UK’s leading mental health experts.

 Our mental health in the workplace guide – a comprehensive look at practical steps you can take away and apply within your business to support wellbeing, increasing employee engagement and their productivity.

A series of On-demand webinars we have produced throughout the pandemic. Subjects include improving in resilience, agile working, employment law and preparing the workplace for returning employees.

We also regularly write about mental health in our blog.

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Posted on 9 September, 2020

By Nick Hardy

in Mental Health

Tag Mental Health

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