Managers must improve mental health support during coronavirus crisis

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Employers have been told they urgently need to step up their mental health support for employees during the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown.

Figures published by the CIPD and Simplyhealth show that only 31% of managers are considered to be sufficiently confident to initiate discussions around mental health and help staff gain expert sources of help.

Immediate action is required, according to the organisations, if employees are to avoid being at risk from poor mental health during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Concern over job security and income loss coupled with the fear of infection and feelings of isolation are among the consequences of the measures taken by the government to prevent the spread of the virus. Each is likely to increase the anxiety, pressure and stress that are affecting many people, stated the CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being Survey at Work 2020 report.

The figure of 31% of managers being capable of tackling employee mental health was not specifically coronavirus-related; the figure has remained about the same for the past four years despite a higher proportion of managers being trained in the area.

Employers also need to remember that their duty of care for people’s health and safety carries on no matter where staff are based” – Rachel Suff

Similarly, only 25% of respondents said that managers were confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health.

The report stated that although managers should not be expected to have medical expertise, they were required to be comfortable having discussions about mental health and recognise they would often be the first port of call when a colleague wants to raise an issue.

The research also found that 60% of organisations reported an increase in common mental health conditions (such as anxiety and depression) among employees over the last year. It stated the pandemic would exacerbate these conditions for many and is another reason for employers to step up their efforts.

Rachel Suff, well-being adviser at the CIPD, said with so many people working at home, “it can be even harder for managers to pick up on cues that their colleagues might be struggling. It’s really important that managers are regularly checking in with their team and making use of video calls, so interactions can be as personal as possible”.

She added that: “Employers also need to remember that their duty of care for people’s health and safety carries on no matter where staff are based. These findings show that while more managers are being trained to help colleagues with their mental health, it doesn’t always seem to be translating into better support for staff.”

Richard Gillies, chief operating officer at Simplyhealth, pointed out that “Organisations who have already adopted a proactive approach to supporting their employees’ wellbeing will be well positioned during the coronavirus crisis.

“By making good use of initiatives like employee assistance programmes that offer counselling, and 24/7 remote access to a GP, employees will benefit from additional support for their health at such a difficult time.”

The CIPD and Simplyhealth recommended employers carried out the following during and after the crisis:

  • Support and guide their managers so that they feel equipped to have sensitive and supportive discussions with staff
  • Remind managers about the importance of communicating regularly with their team and asking how they are
  • Encourage staff to practise self-care such as a healthy routine for diet, sleep and relaxation
  • Promote their existing health and well-being benefits and support, for example signposting people to their counselling helpline

The survey was of 1,018 people professionals representing 4.5 million employees.

Meanwhile, in a sign of the extreme pressure the coronavirus outbreak has applied to senior officials’ mental health, the state finance minister for the Hesse region in Germany took his own life last Saturday after expressing “despair” over how to handle the economic fallout from coronavirus.

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