Employers must step up their mental ill-health support during COVID-19

CIPD provide an insight into why employers must protect the mental ill-health of their staff during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Only 31% of managers have the confidence to have sensitive discussions around mental ill-health and signpost staff to expert sources of help, say new figures published from the CIPD and Simplyhealth today.

Both organisations are warning that employers need to act now to help prevent their employees from being at serious risk of mental ill-health during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fear of infection and feeling isolated, along with concerns about job or income loss are just some of the knock-on effects from the pandemic that are all likely to increase the pressure and stress people are under.

Addressing the issue

Managers need to be confident and capable to support people’s mental well-being and prevent stress during this difficult time. However, the Health and Well-being Survey at Work 2020 report, which surveyed 1,018 people professionals representing 4.5 million employees, finds the majority of managers were falling short on this front even before the crisis started.

Only 31% of respondents say managers are confident to have sensitive discussions around mental ill-health and signpost staff to expert sources of help if needed; a figure that has barely improved in the last four years despite many more managers being trained to do so.

Similarly, only 25% of respondents say that managers are confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill-health. While managers are not – and should not be expected to be – medical experts, they need to be comfortable having discussions about mental ill-health and recognise they will often be the first port of call when a colleague wants to raise an issue.

What is recommended

In response, the CIPD and Simplyhealth are recommending employers do the following during and after the crisis:
•    Support and guide their managers so that they feel equipped to have sensitive and supportive discussions with staff.
•    Remind managers about the importance of communicating regularly with their team and asking how they are.
•    Encourage staff to practise self-care such as a healthy routine for diet, sleep and relaxation.
•    Promote their existing health and well-being benefits and support, for example, signposting people to their counselling helpline.

Rise in mental ill-health

The research also finds that three-fifths (60%) of organisations reported an increase in common mental ill-health conditions (such as anxiety and depression) among employees over the last year. The pandemic will exacerbate these conditions for many and is another reason for employers to step up their efforts.

Rachel Suff, well-being adviser at the CIPD, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is putting a huge strain on employers and individuals – and it’s completely understandable that for some, this situation is proving challenging for their mental health.

“With many workers now working from home, it can be even harder for managers to pick up on cues that their colleagues might be struggling. It’s really important that managers are regularly checking in with their team and making use of video calls so that interactions can be as personal as possible.

“Employers also need to remember that their duty of care for people’s health and safety carries on no matter where staff are based. These findings show that while more managers are being trained to help colleagues with their mental health, it doesn’t always seem to be translating into better support for staff. This pandemic presents a real threat to people’s mental, as well as physical, health and employers need to think about both when putting in place plans to protect their workforce.”

Leadership support

Richard Gillies, chief operating officer at Simplyhealth, said: “During these challenging times, it is important that leaders and managers continue to ensure that people feel looked after by their employers to help them engage, be productive and continue to have the best quality of working life possible. Having regular, open, and two-way conversations with your team is vital to protect the mental and physical health of your employees. We are encouraging our employees to use video calling so they can still see and talk to each other on a daily basis and feel part of their normal network. We are also sharing regular company updates, general advice, and free webinars to help people adapt to remote working and manage their mental ill-health.

“Organisations who have already adopted a proactive approach to supporting their employees’ wellbeing will be well-positionedduring the coronavirus crisis. By making good use of initiatives like Employee Assistance Programmes that offer counselling, and 24/7 remote access to a GP, employees will benefit from additional support for their health at such a difficult time.”

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