Mental health problems can affect anyone, at any time. This has always been the case. But as England enters the second major lockdown since the global pandemic first reached the UK and the rest of the world has varying levels of social distancing measures in place, the impact of the coronavirus on our mental well-being is likely to be affected.
In fact, the World Health Organization explored this on World Mental Health Day in October: ‘The past months have brought many challenges: for healthcare workers, for students, for workers whose livelihoods are threatened; for the vast number of people caught in poverty or in fragile humanitarian settings and for people with mental health conditions, many experiencing even greater social isolation than before.’
We’ve all had to adapt. From wearing masks when we go outside to spending months away from our colleagues as we work from home, many things have changed very quickly. All we can do is try to keep up. However, as the coronavirus continues to affect local communities, it’s also having an impact on the mental health of employees.
The consequences of COVID-19 on employee mental health
For employees, there has been a lot to manage mentally. Here’s a look at some of the key concerns that are affecting workers:
One of the most significant effects of COVID-19 on employees is the rise in money worries. In the UK, the furlough scheme was introduced in March and extended at the end of October to continue until next March.
However, this scheme hasn’t necessarily been the lifeline a lot of businesses needed, and there has been job losses and redundancies as a result. Currently, the Office of National Statistics is reporting that 1.62 million people in the UK are out of work, and this number is set to rise.
These issues faced by UK workers are echoed around the world. It’s predicted that around 245 million full-time jobs could be lost across the world due to the pandemic, but this forecast changes regularly as countries go into the second wave of the virus.
All of this uncertainty around job security is sure to have an effect on the mental wellbeing of employees. Whether furloughed or still working full-time, workers are worried about their finances, and this has a knock-on effect on their mental health. This is because stress and anxiety levels tend to rise when we have money worries.
As well as money worries, employees are trying to maintain their physical health. There’s the constant worry that there’s a chance they’ll contract the virus. This ongoing worry can add to the feeling of pressure, especially for those who have a family and children to look after.
Many workers have had to juggle homeschooling with their standard workload. There have been reports of workers being fired for having to do this juggle, which again, adds pressure for working parents who’ve found themselves in a position they didn’t ask to be in.
Additional family worries centre on health. Workers who usually care for their elderly parents, for example, have had to distance themselves to keep them safe. Again, this adds to the stress and is affecting the mental wellbeing of employees trying to manage their family life and their work life.
What are the solutions?
Employees are facing unprecedented pressures as a result of the pandemic. To help ease these pressures, employers have a duty of care for their workforce – and there are plenty of organisations that are getting things right.
Shortly after World Mental Health Day on 8th October, Candice Eaton, RSM’s new Leader for Diversity and Inclusion, spoke about the significance of normalising mental health in the workplace: ‘It is the responsibility of employers and employees alike to make sure we normalise mental wellness, as we do with physical wellness.’
To help improve employee well-being, employers must focus on their mental health. Now, more than ever, it’s time to destigmatise this area of our health and introduce policies and the tools to help workers.
Try adding in regular team catch-ups over Zoom or Microsoft Teams and reviewing and updating your company’s current mental health policy. Tackle any money worries your workers have by introducing financial wellbeing products, such as money management workshops.
RSM International has made some changes in its approach to mental health lately. RSM UK launched the Mental Health Champions Programme, while RSM Uruguay introduced personal coaching sessions.
It’s not just international organisations that are focussing on mental health during the pandemic. Small businesses have used the tools available to help their employees, with half of those asked in a recent survey saying they’re aware of the services and tools that are available.
While employees are finding things hard, managers are also experiencing difficulties: ‘Dealing with issues regarding mental wellness is just as common among top management as they are in any other organisational level,’ said Candice.
‘It is important to lead by example. In the current environment, business leaders need to be able to demonstrate their own healthy behaviours, and that includes sharing their challenges, and how they deal or have dealt with them.’
Whether you’re an employer or employee, it’s more important than ever to look after your mental well-being.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg.