October 28, 2020

How to Support Employees During This Mental Health Crisis

As the UK enters the seventh month of lockdown, the quality of people’s mental health is deteriorating at a concerning rate. More than two thirds (69%) of adults are reportedly feeling worried about the effect the virus is having on their life.

According to a survey by the Samaritans, just over 1 in 10 callers reported experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm during the first week of lockdown. It is perhaps not surprising that such a dramatic change to the way we live has caused people already struggling to focus on the effect lockdown has had.

Mind is defining this as a mental health emergency.

Mental Health charity Mind is defining this as a “mental health emergency” and as such, we not only have to prioritise mental health as individuals, but also as responsible employers during this crisis.

New Struggles That Staff Face

The world has changed a lot over the past year, and with it are many new challenges for employees and managers alike. These are the issues that many people are currently facing:

  • Reduced social interaction with friends, family and colleagues
  • Greater childcare responsibilities, particularly those who might usually rely on family members for support
  • Financial worries, including concern over job security or taking on financial burdens if a family member has been made redundant
  • Fear of social stigma, such as anxiety about spreading the virus
  • Less respite, including fewer holidays and less “change of scene”
  • Stress related to sensationalised news and rumours
  • Concern over vulnerable family members’ health
  • Reduced contact with health services, longer waiting times for medical attention and mental health support
  • Boredom

The key concerns reported during this time are: worrying about the future (63%), feeling stressed or anxious (56%) and feeling bored (49%) due to social isolation.

Signs That Your Colleagues Might Need Support

Depression, anxiety and generally ill mental health can reveal itself to others in unexpected ways. Here are some signs to look out for that indicate someone might be struggling:

  • Agitation and restlessness. Difficulty in focussing on one task, jumping from one to another without fully completing any.
  • Being uncharacteristically quick to temper, aggressive or short with colleagues.
  • Lack of energy – taking longer to do certain tasks than usual.
  • Tearfulness.
  • Purposely avoiding other people, meetings or calls. If working from home, a sign may be often being on mute with the camera turned off on Zoom calls.
  • Not replying to messages or seeming distant.
  • No enjoyment in things that normally bring pleasure.
  • Possible increased alcohol consumption.
  • Negative comments about self, or about feelings of helplessness. This could be in person or on a social media platform.
  • Loss of confidence, seeking reassurance, unwarranted concerns about performance at work.
  • Changes in routine including reports of poor sleep.

How to Improve Employees’ Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace

It’s important to remember that everyone has mental health. And like physical illness, people can have poor mental health in one area, and good mental health in another. We need to be aware of the complexity of mental health in order to better support it.

Here are some things that, as employers and managers, you can do to support mental health in the workplace:

  • Make it known that you treat mental health as seriously as you do physical health in your business, and give employees and workers the same consideration for mental health absences as you would for absences for physical health problems.
  • Offer greater visibility for the whole workforce on how your business is performing. This will lead to a greater sense of trust from your employees. It may help them feel more prepared and less anxious about the future even if you are sharing less than positive news.
  • Set up a regular catch-up every day, or several times a week if you haven’t already. Start each conversation talking about people’s lives outside of work. Regular social contact is the most successful coping strategies for mental health, so make sure your team are taking the time to enjoy each other’s company whether in person or virtually.
  • Consider altering your benefit system to adapt to these times. Offering discounts at restaurants and theatre trips may not be very well utilised at the moment. Is there anything you can offer instead, such as e-learning courses that will encourage more happiness at home?
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of work satisfaction in contributing towards people’s mental health. So make sure your employees’ days are structured and goal-orientated to create a sense of accomplishment.
  • Put in place a recognition strategy to reward employees for hard work they’ve done recently. The process of nominating and recognising people will create a better sense of community, whether you’re working from home or are in the workplace. It doesn’t have to add cost – first and foremost people need to know they are appreciated.
  • Let people know that you are in this together. Many people are experiencing the same anxieties at the moment, and often talking about it can make people feel less alone.
  • If the pandemic has changed your ways of working, consider if you are able to respond positively to employees who want to alter their work patterns or formalise homeworking.

If You’re Concerned That Someone You Know is Struggling

Employers, managers and peers have the power to help colleagues who are struggling. If you’re concerned about someone, the simplest and most effective thing you can do is strike up a conversation. Reaching out to someone and offering a listening ear can make a huge difference.

If your business has an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) this is a simple direction to suggest to someone and it could help them secure professional help quickly. Otherwise you could point them towards helpful services, such as counselling or the Samaritans. However, if someone presents as an immediate danger to themselves or others, don’t hesitate to call 999.

If you are yourself affected by anything in this article, please do reach out to a friend, family member, colleague or a service like the Samaritans for support.

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About the author

Audrey Robertson

About the author

Audrey Robertson

HR Consultancy & Insurance Manager, Audrey, has a strong background in HR, Employment Law and related insurances in a career spanning over 15 years leading teams in-house and as a consultant supporting clients across retail, education and the B2B sectors. At Moorepay, Audrey heads up the Policy & HR Consultancy team as well as the insurance claims department. With a strong commitment and investment in employee wellbeing, having studied counselling and coaching, Audrey is a qualified Mental Health First Aider and supports our staff on-site.

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