The Covid-19 Fallout: The Mental Health Impact

By Sharon Pegg, Director Northern Powerhouse Consulting


Before Covid-19, stress, anxiety, and depression were already the most common reasons for long-term absence from work, and as we slowly emerge from the pandemic and think about the post-Covid world, we can’t do so without thinking about the long-term effect it’s likely to have on employee mental health.

The impact of Covid-19 on mental health

The pandemic has been a ‘perfect storm’ of things that we know are harmful to mental health. Many people have felt isolated, exercised less, drank more alcohol, experienced financial difficulties, had poor work/life balance, lost people to the virus, experienced domestic violence or increased family pressures, and have been fearful about catching the virus.

Mental health charities say their hotlines have received an unprecedented number of calls during the outbreak as people struggle to deal with stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and grief.

Employers need to be prepared

As we deal with the fallout from Covid-19, employers have an important role to play in supporting those who are struggling with their mental health.
Months of lockdown and working from home will have taken its toll on many, not to mention fears about returning to work and staying safe.

What should employers do?

The pandemic will have affected everyone differently and employers should be prepared to offer support to employees ranging from allaying their fears about returning to the workplace to providing effective help to those dealing with mental health conditions. So what should employers be doing?

If you haven’t already, offer employees a re-introduction to the workplace

This can help people feel better about returning to work. Go through what you’ll do to keep them safe and what will change in terms of the physical environment and ways of working. That way, there will be no surprises when they come back.

Brief managers on Covid-19 and mental health

Make sure that managers understand the potential mental health impact of Covid-19 and what they should do to support their people.
Develop a comprehensive wellbeing policy
Wellbeing is going to be a big focus as people return to work, so if you haven’t already, use this time to develop a wellbeing policy that details how your organisation is going to look after employees’ physical, mental, financial, and social wellbeing.

Increase mental health awareness across the organisation

Whether it’s by running an internal awareness campaign, introducing formal mental health training, or having designated mental health champions, this will help people feel like they are supported, and able to talk about mental health and ask for help when they need it.
You can also make mental health resources available for employees to access when they need them. If you have an EAP make sure that their excellent resources and contact details are readily available.

Consider whether now is the time to look at your flexible working policy

Covid-19 has shown us that many jobs can be done remotely, and even though many people struggled to get their head around working from home at first, some employees have reported that they are happier, more productive, and have a better work-life balance.
Employers might want to consider whether it’s possible to make remote or more flexible working more widespread in the future.
Be sure to stay connected with those who are still working from home
Where you have employees who are still working from home, make an effort to stay connected with them to reduce feelings of isolation. As well as regular work-related catch ups, check in just to see how they are, have virtual coffee breaks or after work drinks, and connect via a team WhatsApp group.

What should employers do when an employee is experiencing poor mental health?

Nobody expects managers to become consultant psychiatrists, but they should know how to spot signs of mental ill health and what to do if an employee tells them that they’re struggling.

If someone is experiencing poor mental health, you might notice:
• They are absent from work or they are often late.
• Changes in mood.
• They seem distracted or withdrawn.
• They are irritable or angry.
• They aren’t performing as well as usual.

Of course, managers need to remember that there could be other reasons for this, other than a mental health issue, so don’t assume. Having a conversation with the employee to ask how they are and talk about what you’ve noticed can help managers get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

When an employee discloses that they are experiencing poor mental health

Many people are reluctant to disclose poor mental health, especially at work, so managers need to be on the lookout for issues, but when someone does tell you that they are struggling:
• Have a private chat with them on the phone or via video call.
• Make sure they understand that what they tell you is confidential.
• Talk to them about how their poor mental health is impacting on work and ask what you can do to help. Use this information to create a support plan.
• Be sure to seek advice on mental health conditions where you feel out of your depth.

If an employee ends up needing time off work, managers should:

• Keep in touch with them regularly.
• Make a referral to Occupational Health or other support services where appropriate.
• Talk to them about what support they feel they’d need on their return to work.
• Have more regular one-to-one meetings with them after they return to work.
• Consider making adjustments to their role/workload/working pattern if necessary.

The impact of Covid-19 on everyday life and the economy has been much talked about, but we shouldn’t forget the huge impact it has had, and will continue to have, on our wellbeing for some time, especially on our mental health.

As businesses rebuild and recover from the pandemic, they need happy, productive, and motivated teams of employees. They’ll only get that if they truly believe that you care about their wellbeing. Looking after their mental health is a great place to start.