As the risk to people’s physical health from COVID-19 continues, so does the threat to their mental health. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show almost one in five adults (19.2%) were likely to be experiencing some form of depression in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around 1 in 10 (9.7%) before the pandemic.
This is reinforced by CIPD research, which found that over half (56%) of people with existing mental health issues prior to lockdown said they had worsened as a result of the pandemic.
At this time of heightened uncertainty and anxiety for many, and amid a worsening economic crisis, every employee’s mental and physical health needs protecting.
Worryingly, our most recent data from employees found that around a third (33%) said their line manager or employer had not checked in on their health and wellbeing since the onset of the pandemic.
There is a growing need to support mental health in the workplace. The CIPD is urging all employers to sign up to the Mental Health at Work Commitment, backed by both the CBI and the CIPD, which provides a road map to achieving better mental health outcomes for employees. It includes tools and resources to help you implement each of the six standards defined from the Thriving at Work report, but it’s also a way of showing your values and publicly declaring that mental health at work is a priority for your organisation.
Close the gap in management capability
We know, from years of research at the CIPD, how pivotal the role of line managers is to people’s health and wellbeing. While managers can’t be expected to be health experts or counsellors, they do need to be able to spot the early warning signs of distress, feel comfortable having sensitive conversations, make any supportive work changes and direct people to sources of expert help where needed.
However, we also know there’s a stubborn gap between the expectation and need for managers to support employee wellbeing and the necessary level of investment by employers in developing their capabilities to do so. Our annual Health and wellbeing survey found that less than a third (31%) of HR professionals agreed that managers are ‘confident to have sensitive discussions and signpost staff to expert sources of help if needed’.
The people management skills and capabilities through all levels of organisations have long been underinvested in. This is true beyond just wellbeing, with underinvestment in managers also identified as one of the reasons for poor productivity improvements in recent years. Now is the time to change that.
A line manager’s role assumes even greater importance during this crisis. For many people, they are the main link they have with an organisation and the gateway to any potential support. Understanding and supporting people’s mental health will be a daunting prospect for a manager who is not properly equipped to deal with these issues. As well as education and training, employers need to provide ongoing guidance and support.
During these turbulent times, many managers will be dealing with a multitude of complex personal situations among their increasingly diverse teams. They need to understand how they can build empathetic and trust-based relationships with individuals and facilitate the strong social connections that can have such a protective effect on our wellbeing.
The CIPD is calling on employers and people professionals to develop their people managers to better support teams with their wellbeing during and after the crisis - with a particular focus on mental health. Taking action now could help to reduce the scale of the mental health pandemic that’s being predicted by some experts, while also making a real difference to people’s working lives.
What can employers do now?
The current situation and the impacts of the ongoing pandemic have challenged the resilience of all employees, and especially those in key or essential roles. Employers need to be aware that the mental health implications of this will vary from individual to individual.
A key factor in any organisation's approach to supporting mental health should be prevention. Here are three things employers and HR could consider doing now to support employee mental health:
- Brief managers on the potential health implications of COVID-19 and their specific roles and responsibilities in relation to supporting staff.
- Communicate your wellbeing and mental health support regularly, and wherever possible support this with activities that encourage physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing.
- Provide mental health awareness-raising activities – and work towards fostering a culture where it is acceptable to talk about and seek support for poor mental health.
Find out more with these CIPD resources:
What is preventing more diversity in the boardroom? What more can you do to close gender and ethnicity pay gaps? How do we ensure the COVID-19 crisis doesn’t lead to progress on inclusion stalling or going backwards?
Despite the accepted business case for diversity and inclusion, many firms are finding it challenging to make further progress. Open to all business leaders, the fourth CBI Diversity & Inclusion conference on 30 November - 1 October will explore the opportunities and challenges facing your business, and root out the reasons for the frustrating stagnation in progress.