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The impact of coronavirus is having a prolonged effect on our lives and our working environments. This may cause many to feel anxious, stressed or isolated.

The CIPD found that 43 per cent of workers reported that their general mental health has worsened since the coronavirus outbreak and research by Mind showed 35 per cent of employees describe their mental health as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. Particularly if employees are working from home for the foreseeable future or people remain separated from family members even beyond the initial lockdown in March, the importance of protecting individual mental health and wellbeing has never been more critical.

With cases on the rise and restrictions operating to varying degrees across the country, there is a longer-term economic impact that is particularly relevant for certain sectors such as aviation, hospitality and entertainment that are struggling to remain operational. Financial wellbeing is an important contributing factor to the state of someone’s mental health and underlines how employers must approach employee wellbeing holistically.

We outline the five key steps that employers should be taking to effectively support the mental health and wellbeing of each of their employees.

1. Recognise your role in effecting cultural change

Our UK Reward Management Survey for autumn 2020 is open now. Initial trends emerging from the responses we have received so far highlight how 90 per cent acknowledge their responsibility in helping employees with their wider wellbeing, and specifically their mental health, by having dedicated policies and procedures in place. Traditionally, policies around wellbeing would have involved occupational health and more prescriptive interventions for physical health. 48 per cent of respondents face communication challenges when it comes to managing issues around mental health and more intangible issues concerning anxiety induced by fears and worries. Creating a culture in which employees feel supported is the critical first step in tackling mental health issues throughout your organisation. Employees need to know that help is not only available, but positive encouraged.

2. Focus on each individual

Common barriers to overcome when requesting dedicated resource in this area include poor evidence base to measure return on investment of strategies and a lack of clarity over how to measure success. However, research by the Centre for Mental Health, which took place before the extraordinary pressures placed on individuals by the pandemic, estimated that poor mental health costs employers £34.9 billion per year in lost productivity. When it comes to implementing employee mental health initiatives, employers cited the biggest pressures as time, cost and resources – exactly what is needed to ensure that the right level of support is provided to each individual employee, who may be affected to varying degrees. Economic pressures exacerbate this right now, as only one third of respondents so far have a dedicated budget to implement mental health programmes. To ensure the issue is not overlooked in times where many companies are in survival mode, open communication is vital. Ensuring line managers can effectively listen to their team members and point to the resources available can reinforce how employees can proactively take steps to manage their wellbeing within a supportive organisation.

3. Assess the value employees derive from workplace initiatives

The concept of employee wellbeing can greatly differ person to person, according to their definition of what they prioritise and what makes them feel content. Identify what your employees want by asking them directly through employee opinion surveys. At Paydata we encourage active listening to sidestep trial and error for the most part, with employees having input into the schemes from the outset. Getting direct employee feedback about whether they are receiving the right support from managers, whether they are comfortable talking about their mental and physical health in the workplace and the priority they place in taking care of themselves, are vital insights into whether the initiatives that you are offering are providing the right level of assistance.

4. Encourage everyday behavioural change

Once you have defined what your employees derive the most value from, you can tailor your initiatives and benefits to address their needs directly. Employers have placed more of a focus on employee mental health in the wake of coronavirus, especially in light of the stresses induced by having to go into work during a pandemic or home-working around the family and the resultant work-life blend that not everyone welcomes in uncertain times. 90 per cent offer flexible working and access to counseling services; these programmes meet the wider concerns of employees beyond work. 69 per cent of respondents so far report a better work-life balance that has been achieved from the initiatives they have introduced. The concept of promoting wider ‘health’ is all about small and consistent changes that result in big achievements for each individual.

5. Explore how your employee benefits support physical, mental and financial wellbeing

Employers can help employees with these interrelated factors by offering access to the right tools and resources. It is important to note the opportunity for mental health and wellbeing initiatives to cross-over with the benefits employers offer, with gym, bike to work schemes and health check-ups being popular, alongside harnessing technology to offer dedicated wellbeing apps. Stress can be effectively managed by ensuring that each employee is comfortable in managing their finances and workload whilst incorporating exercise and good nutrition. For example, Employee Assistance Programmes feature in the top benefits employers offer, which offers staff confidential counseling and advice on a range of work and personal issues. Financial support is a key dimension of mental health – those offering Employee Assistance Programmes will often provide access to financial advice, demonstrating the range of issues that wellbeing encompasses. In recognition of this, mental and physical first aid training should be placed on an equal footing at work, underlining the importance of robust training.

Get in touch

Call us today if you would like to talk more about employee wellbeing and the importance of mental health in the workplace.

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