Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the approach to employee mental health and wellbeing has rapidly and drastically changed, and quite rightly so. The disruption of 2020 has led more people than ever before to realise and understand the impact our mental health can have on our daily and work lives.

Mental health, however, is not a new issue, and as we emerge from this pandemic we all must remember that mental health awareness isn’t just for lockdown.

In fact, mental health issues were rapidly increasingly prior to the pandemic. According to the Office for National Statistics, pre-COVID data showed that stress, depression, and anxiety accounted for a staggering 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost. Not only a worrying statistic but a costly one too. To put this in monetary terms, poor mental health costs on average £1,300 per employee per year, and whilst absenteeism is easily measured, presenteeism or working while sick is not, but can be equally as costly. Job insecurity, whether perceived or real, can cause many employees to turn up at work feeling unwell, and even though they are ‘present’ their productivity and output are limited as a result.

Unfortunately, COVID has exacerbated the mental health crisis even further, by both sparking new conditions as well as ‘pouring fuel’ on existing fires. It is predicted that the psychological impact COVID has had on people’s mental health is enormous and its effects are likely to be felt long past the end of the pandemic. Global research by McKinsey has found that the pandemic could increase the prevalence of behavioural and mental health conditions by as much as 50%.

However, it is not all bad news. Like every cloud, even COVID has a silver lining. The pandemic has allowed us to pause and reflect on our ways of working. It has shed light on mental health issues by increasing awareness of the subject, which means more can be done to address the problem.

Many employers are now starting to put employee’s wellbeing and mental health needs at the forefront of their business operations as they begin to recognise just how important it is to invest time and resources in employee wellness. New analysis by Deloitte has highlighted how much it pays to support employees’ mental health, noting that on average, for every £1 employers spend on supporting their people’s mental health, they receive £5 back on their investment in reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover.

It is widely known that employee wellness and overall performance go together. The healthier your work environment, the healthier and more productive your employees will be. It is as simple as that.

What can employers do to support the mental health of their staff, build a healthier and more resilient workforce, and nurture a workplace culture that benefits both the company and its employees? We wanted to take the opportunity of Mental Health Awareness Week to share some suggestions:

Remove the stigma around mental health.

Being open about your mental health can be very difficult and many suffer in silence for fear of negative consequences. Make it clear that you support mental health and create a culture that encourages an open and authentic dialogue. Normalise difficult conversations by sharing personal stories if you can, or simply by sharing your coping strategies and wellbeing tips. This will build trust and will help you spot the early signs of a problem so that you can find ways of reducing its impact.

Promote and encourage a positive work/life balance.

A healthy work-life balance is the responsibility of both the employer and the employee. Employers should encourage employees to take care of their wellbeing by being effective role models through their actions and behaviours. Avoid emailing during out-of-office hours, on weekends, or during employees’ annual leave periods unless it is imperative. 24/7 emails interfere with employee’s personal lives and can cause relationship and family issues. Being unable to properly ‘unplug’, rest, and mentally ‘check out’ can harm mental wellbeing and productivity. Just like your mobile phone will never run at full battery power if you do not recharge it properly, your employees will not be their best selves at work if they don’t fully rest and recoup when they should.

Explore ways of measuring work-related stress.

Undertake regular checks to review workloads, and identify stressors such as long hours, unreasonable expectations and deadlines, and unmanageable workloads. Do not overload to the point where your staff cannot cope as a stressed and burnt-out workforce will become unproductive and inefficient in the long run.

Develop the emotional intelligence of Line Managers and provide specific training on people management.

Many Managers, the so-called “Accidental Managers”, receive promotion into new roles because of their technical skills, but lack knowledge and experience in managing people. The challenges of managing, supporting, and motivating staff as well as monitoring their mental health are not to be underestimated. It is hard work, and even more so if the Managers’ social and interpersonal skills are not up to standard. When it comes to managing people, traditional intelligence (IQ) alone is not enough. Successful Managers are not just smart, they have high emotional intelligence and people skills. Emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EQ) determines our ability to manage feelings and relationships and to judge and react to people around us, which in the workplace is arguably more important than IQ. Whilst some people naturally have a well-developed EQ, others might not be as gifted and will need further training.

Encourage your staff to support and look after each other.

They will build tighter and stronger team bonds and their mental wellbeing will be better because of it, as the more we give to someone else, the more our own mental wellbeing will be enhanced.

If you are looking to develop and grow your IP and Legal departments, we would be delighted to assist. Whether you are looking for your next career opportunity, help expanding your team, or assistance with mergers and acquisitions, contact us today for a confidential discussion.