A mental health timebomb
Love your employees research
This is the second in a series of articles looking at some of the key themes emerging from Love Your Employees annual research 2021. A reminder that the research is based on in-depth conversations with 300 senior HR managers across the UK, in randomly selected companies of all sizes and sectors. It includes desktop data research with just under 2000 UK companies. The smallest firm had 20 employees and the largest had 54,000, collectively the companies in our sample employ 1,733,337 people in the UK.
We asked employers ‘What has been the biggest challenge to support employees with home working? The three top answers were:
- Maintaining employee wellbeing
- Identifying and supporting employees with mental health
- Getting people to participate and engage
Options such as ‘managing workloads, timescales and customers’ was surprisingly much further down the priority list. Feedback here shows a real shift, clearly that employers have really struggled with the soft aspects of leading people during this crisis, supporting people with wellbeing, mental health and engagement.
We also asked employers ‘What has the most negative impact of COVID been for you?’ The top two answers were:
- The loss of human interaction and social engagement
- Mental health of the workforce
When asked about mental health specifically – ‘Did you see a rise in mental health issues or mental health related absence in your organisation after, COVID?’ 61% felt there has been a rise. From the three questions above we can start to see the impact that COVID has had. All the normal business issues of productivity and performance have been put to the back and there is genuine concern about the well being of employees. Looking towards solutions and proactive interventions, 50% of the employers we talked to do not have a defined wellbeing strategy. However, encouraging 94% of employers do provide some kind of support, (an increase of 23% on last year). The most popular type of support is an EAP (employee assistance programme). None of the employers we talked to provide access to things like addiction counselling or burn out prevention services.
The Centre for Mental Health Nationally, in England, predicts that up to 10 million people (almost 20% of the population) will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis. 1.5 million of those will be children and young people under 18. These are massive figures, and it is impossible to believe that this timebomb will not impact on workplaces.
One of the difficulties with mental health is that it manifests in such diverse ways. It can be very mild at one end of the spectrum and severe and scary at the other end. There lies a problem for employers, no two people can be treated in the same way, and it is difficult to provide off the shelf support, information and training for managers that meets the full range of diverse needs. You can have low level anxiety and stress, that if not addressed can escalate into much worse depression which is more difficult to get out of. There are more complex conditions such as eating disorders, self-harming, alcohol, gambling and drug addiction can be linked to mental health and bereavement can be a powerful trigger, all these issues raise their heads in the workplace. You may also have bi-polar or schizophrenic employees who manage with medication most of the time but occasionally problems can arise at work. Good occupational health support can help you and your employee but the days of its someone else’s problem and providing the very minimum you can have gone. Mental health is a front of mind problem for everyone. Solutions and options do not need to be costly, often it can simply be having access to good quality information or innovative apps. Acknowledging mental health, showing that you have made an effort to help goes a long way in demonstrating that you are a caring and up-to-date employer.
Starting at the lower end of mental health problems, by providing a range of support in the workplace it allows you to reach a wide range of people and perhaps successfully avoiding issues escalating. Check out our partners page for some of the most exciting and innovative ways to support employees with mental health in the workplace.
We know that sleep is an issue for a lot of people, trouble relaxing, not being able to switch off or stay asleep. There are lots of apps from free to small costs. For example, guided meditation, Yoga, sleeps sounds, relaxation, to the more obscure for example, iPhone Buddha board has you dip your finger into a ‘water tray’ on screen then paint a picture as your drawing fades it is meant to help clear your mind. Gather some information on the topic of depression and show the options available and at least start a conversation. You could provide examples set up for staff to use, keep information up to date and encourage them to share their experience, perhaps using case studies or feedback on what people found useful. With greater awareness of mental health this has been a huge area of employee benefits development and something worth looking into.
Warning signs of burnout
These quotes describe the difference between mild depression and something more serious.
Depression is being colour blind and constantly told how colourful the world is – Atticus
‘It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who has never been there because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling – that really hollowed-out feeling’ – JK Rowling
The warning signs can be divided into four main categories:
Physical – Headaches or backaches, muscle tension, feeling sick, insomnia, frequent colds, chest pain and palpitations, loss of sex drive, skin issues like eczema.
Emotional – irritability or impatience, short temper, feeling constantly on edge, being unable to wind down, feeling overwhelmed or isolated, feeling generally unhappy or depressed.
Cognitive (mental functioning) – lack of concentration, blowing problems out of proportion, poor judgement calls, indecisiveness, being unable to see the positive in any situation, memory lapses.
Behavioural – overeating or not eating enough, using unwise ‘coping mechanisms’ such as drinking too much alcohol, overdoing activities such as exercise or shopping, picking fights with other people or isolating yourself.
It can be really difficult to have a conversation when it has reached this level but to have no input risks escalation, longer absence, serious harm and overspill to other employees. There is specialist management training available, apps, employee education and occupational expertise you can call on.
Some companies like Aster Group, Amey and Mace (see the articles below) are examples of employers who have thought about the age demographic of their workforce and looked for innovative solutions to address the particular needs of employees with menopause. Thinking about your employees in different segments can drastically impact the effectiveness of a one size fits all approach.
Mental Health COVID forecasting
Aster Group get menopause accreditation
Amey launch menopause app