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Employers urged to really take mental health crisis seriously

Simon Blake, CEO - MHFA England

During the pandemic, 1 in 4 (25%) employees say they’ve had no wellbeing check-ins from their workplace. The new research from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England is launched on My Whole Self Day on 18 March 2021. The research, with 2,000 employees, also reveals that almost a third (29%) of workers never discuss mental health in meetings with their line manager.

When it comes to workplace wellbeing, there has been a polarised response to the pandemic. Although a third (32%) of employees say mental health and wellbeing support improved, many organisations are still falling short.

Mental ill health already costs employers £2.4 billion per year [1] and despite warnings of a mental health crisis owing to COVID-19, many employers have failed to increase support for workers. In total, 41% of employees say they had less frequent wellbeing check-ins, or none at all, during the pandemic. 43% of employees also said their workplace mental health and wellbeing support stayed the same, or got worse, during the pandemic.

According to MHFA England, many employers need to take steps to increase support for their people. This includes encouraging regular wellbeing check-ins, facilitating activities to stay connected and ensuring managers have the training and resources they need to support their teams.

The research reveals stark differences in the experiences of men and women, and the impact of COVID-19 on their workplace mind-set. Over double the number of women (68%), compared to men (31%), said their workplace confidence had decreased owing to the pandemic. And many more women (64%) than men (36%) reported an increase in feelings of loneliness or feelings of isolation during this period.

There is a silver lining to the pandemic’s work-from-home measures. As many people juggle work and home life, we have had more insights into our colleagues’ lives. Positively, 38% of employees say they find easier to bring their ‘whole self’ to work, and be more open with colleagues, whilst working from home. Double the number of those who found it more difficult to do so (19%).

The research coincides with My Whole Self Day on 18 March which is part of the campaign for workplace culture change from MHFA England. Backed by business directors and mental health leaders from organisations including from Samaritans, Nestle, Bupa UK, UBS and LinkedIn to the Chartered Management Institute and the Federation of Small Businesses – it calls on organisations to empower employees to bring their ‘whole self’ to work.

The differences in the support people are getting for their mental health and wellbeing from their workplaces is worrying says MHFA England CEO Simon Blake, particularly given just how many people have reported the negative impact of the pandemic on their confidence at work.

He says, COVID-19 has increased the need for employers to support the mental health and wellbeing of their staff. As these statistics show, the pandemic has laid bare pre-existing inequalities – gender, race and economic – and in turn it has exacerbated them. This needs serious attention as we start to rebuild.

 “It is encouraging to see some employers doing brilliant work but this research reveals disparities in how organisations are approaching mental health and wellbeing support. Workplaces are key to creating a society where everyone’s mental health matters so some employers must play catch up. We urge more employers to bring together diversity and inclusion with mental health and wellbeing, to create workplaces that are fit for all.

 “It is positive to see many people report they feel they can bring more of their whole self to work since the pandemic. Employers must build cultures where people have the trust, flexibility, safety and freedom to bring their whole selves to work so they can perform at the top of their game, without fear of judgement or penalty.  It is better for mental wellbeing and better for business.

“Regular wellbeing check-ins with colleagues are a vital way to support people’s mental health during the pandemic and a good starting point. We’re urging all employers to adopt this simple practice today. Our My Whole Self MOT can be used to help facilitate these conversations and signpost people to lots of other resources to support their wellbeing”.

Ann Francke, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) says: “Now more than ever it’s imperative that staff feel able to bring their whole self to the office. The pandemic showed that the need for empathetic leadership is on the rise – indeed 72% of managers told us, in our Management Transformed research, that wellbeing would be their top priority for 2021.

“We’re at a crucial point for our country and we want to build back better, so let’s use this once-in-a-generation opportunity to change our workplaces to achieve that. Flexible working, improved communication and more consultation are good things that build trust and productivity and we should carry those forward as we emerge into this new normal.”

Karl Simons OBE, Chief Health, Safety and Security Officer at Thames Water, said: “It’s not the physical or psychological issues an employee has that prevents them thriving at work, it’s the environment in which they are placed. At Thames Water we have created a culture of care in which our people feel empowered to speak up any time they require support, so we can be there at that time of need.”

 

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