The number of employees reporting mental health worries is up 24% since May 2020, research has revealed as Mental Health Awareness Week kicks off.
Numerous lockdowns have resulted in a significant increase in the number of staff reporting mental health concerns over the course of the year, according to investment company Close Brothers. Now, more than half (51%) employees have a mental health concern compared to this time last year.
The percentage of 18-34-year-olds experiencing mental health worries has risen by a seventh to 63% and among those 55+ it has increased by more than a third to 37%, its ‘Expecting the unexpected’ report finds.
Two in five staff have experienced an increase in worries about their financial health. Financial concerns are more likely among women (44%) than men (34%), and are prominent among those aged 18-34 (51%).
Jeanette Makings, head of financial education at Close Brothers, said: “Understandably, the pandemic has had a direct impact on employee wellbeing and specifically on their mental and financial health. Tackling this, and providing the support needed, even as the majority of employees continue to work remotely, is an area of growing importance for organisations.
“Mental wellbeing has always been impacted by poor financial wellbeing but over the last 12 months this has touched more people and some have been particularly badly affected. Sectors have been hit at all levels and so it has never been so critical to ensure that everyone understands and is confident about the choices they have so they can make the absolute best decisions with the money they have.”
The proportion of employees experiencing worries about their physical health has remained steady since the start of the pandemic (46%).
Sixty-one per cent have either already started, or are planning, to exercise more, while 55% are planning to eat a healthier diet and other activities to improve overall wellbeing and mental health.
Some 2,000 employees were polled by Opinium for Close Brothers.
More investment needed
In separate research published ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week, insurer Aon revealed that 70% of employers do not have a wellbeing budget in place and only 8% of firms invest more than £126 per employee per year in health and wellbeing.
Despite the widely-recognised impact the pandemic has had on mental health, 44% of firms are not delivering mental health awareness training.
“Not only should employers provide targeted support for people managers and business leaders, they also need to provide adequate training to help them manage the specific issues their team members may bring to them,” said Charles Alberts, head of wellbeing, UK Health Solutions, at Aon.
“This has become more complex since the pandemic started for many reasons, so providing support and training is fundamental. Neither people nor managers should be left ill-equipped to handle an issue.”
Amy Tomlinson, head of HR at MetLife UK, acknowledged that the pandemic has brought forth more open conversations about mental health, but said many worries are likely to remain over the coming months as offices are reopened and finances continue to suffer because of pay cuts, freezes or furlough.
“Indeed, as society opens up and we look ahead to a more sociable summer, it’s important to remember that people’s feelings towards lockdown and the future may be very different. While some are happy to be out and about again others may have enjoyed the security of spending more time at home,” she said.
Stress doesn’t clock off at 5, it can carry over into our evenings and weekends, but employers have a key role to play in supporting staff” – Amy Tomlinson, MetLife UK
“Stress doesn’t clock off at 5, it can carry over into our evenings and weekends, but employers have a key role to play in supporting staff. From small steps such as encouraging open channels of communication, watching for employee burnout and allowing employees to go at their own pace to reviewing current employee benefits policies and training mental health first aiders, businesses should ensure they are doing all they can to support staff both professionally and personally.”
Recruitment firm AMS, formerly Alexander Mann Solutions, urged organisations to make time for conversations with employees.
Ruth Smyth, managing director, people and culture at AMS, said: “While there’s been some really encouraging and inspirational moves from employers to support the mental wellbeing of their staff during the pandemic, we’re now facing longer-term stresses that businesses need to prepare for – in particular, the effects of long-Covid and a possible mental health pandemic that could impact our people for a number of years unless we prepare and take action quickly.
“While every business will have its own talent engagement and mental health wellbeing programme in place, impactful, courageous and difficult conversations need to embraced if we’re to support our talent in the new world of work. Making time to talk now could safeguard the wellbeing of our people in the future.”