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How the Pandemic Has Affected Mental Health in the Workplace – And How You Can Adapt

Our working lives and our mental health have always been inextricably linked. But for many organisations and employees, the pandemic has brought this relationship into even sharper relief.

The CIPD’s snapshot survey of 1,000 employees found that 22% thought their jobs were in danger, while the majority of those with an existing mental health condition or anxiety said it had worsened.

These findings would raise concerns for employers in any year, but now that most workforces are operating remotely, effective line management is more difficult, and struggling individuals are less easy to identify and support, it’s critical they’re taken seriously.

So, let’s look at some of the most common mental health challenges in workforces, and explore some practical steps you can take to address them.

The Common Mental Health Challenges Created by the Pandemic

Life in lockdown has, of course, affected all of us in different ways. But research from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) shows some broad – and worrying – trends in the wellbeing of employees working from home.

First, for many, work is spilling outside of work hours. Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed during the initial lockdown reported working at least one more hour than they were contracted to each week, while 15% said they were working at least 10 more.

The IES also found a strong correlation between poor physical health and poor mental health. A real cause for concern when just 24% of respondents said the health and safety of their home working space had been assessed, and around half reported recently experiencing back and neck pain, eye strain, and migraines.

With the proportion of the workforce based at home projected to double post-pandemic, these issues are here to stay – unless businesses take positive action to resolve them.

Practical Steps to Nurturing Mental Health Today

One of the quickest, easiest changes any employer can make is to arrange additional, regular conversations with employees, focused on how they’re feeling, and what additional support they might need.

It’s also important to educate the managers involved in those conversations. When someone opens up about a challenge, the person they’re speaking to should know how to respond, and what processes to put in motion – whether it’s getting them that workspace assessment, evaluating their current workload, or putting them in contact with a therapist.

Taking strong, concrete action is vital if you want your employees to feel valued and keep communicating.

As Stephan Bevan, Head of HR Research Development at the IES, explains, “The quality of leadership and management is magnified during lockdown. If you want to sustain performance and productivity you have to ask the right questions, know what to do with the answers, and be prepared to act on them. It’s about asking people how they really are.”

Once you’ve established strong lines of communication between managers and their reports, look for ways to support communication between teams and peers. Ask, “How can we keep people engaged and connected, even while they’re physically apart?”

One answer might be setting up an online space for employees, where they can chat informally about work and life, and share news, photos, stories and laughter.

Responding to the Pandemic as an SME – Read Our Report

Of course, the rapid shift in working styles we’ve experienced in 2020 hasn’t just affected employee mental health. If they’re to thrive post-pandemic, SMEs must also adopt new technologies quickly and effectively, and redefine their approach to performance management.

We’ve partnered with People Management Insight to create a new report especially for SMEs seeking to solve those challenges, and successfully manage people, processes and performance in a new working environment.

Packed with fresh analysis and practical advice, it features insights from Mental Health First Aid England, the CIPD, the IES, PwC and many more, as well as inspirational tales from companies that have reshaped the way they work in recent months. Download your copy below.

Discover How The Pandemic Has Impacted Performance Management, Workplace Technology, And Mental Health Support – And How To Respond 

Download the Report

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Discover How The Pandemic Has Impacted Performance Management, Workplace Technology, And Mental Health Support – And How To Respond