Reading: Report shows lockdown causing mental health issues

New research involving 150 HR leaders has found that three in five UK workers have experienced mental health issues since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The report authors, leading accountancy and finance, HR and data analytics recruiter, Wade Macdonald, and workplace law specialist, Doyle Clayton, have raised concerns of an increase in known incidences as a result of the current lockdown measures.

Since March, supporting employee health and wellbeing amidst the global pandemic has risen to the top of employers’ agendas. This research explores how senior teams are adapting, managing and responding to this unprecedented welfare crisis.

Overall care 

Of those surveyed, it was found that 94% of respondents have put measures into place, proactive and reactive, to protect staff welfare. The types of support vary significantly from businesses to business however, the most popular form of support is Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) (88%), followed by self-service platforms (55%).

Some businesses have chosen to go the extra mile and offer personal medical support including access to counselling services (33%), coaching (21%) and a private doctor (16%).

Furlough 

Brought in to ease the financial pressures of the pandemic, the government’s furlough scheme was welcomed with open arms by many businesses nationwide, with 72 per cent of companies utilising the scheme so far. Of the 150 HR leaders surveyed, 60 per cent state to have used, or be using, the furlough scheme.

However, furlough has added extra strain on employee’s mental health with many citing a fear of the unknown, job insecurity and further isolation. To combat this, a large percentage (83 per cent) of employers are using multiple channels of regular communication with furloughed employees. The most popular being phone calls (54 per cent), video calls (41 per cent), company newsletters (39 per cent) and virtual company social gatherings (32 per cent).

Encouragingly, over a third of businesses ensured that furloughed employees were still given access to training days whilst away from the day-to-day working routine. A very pragmatic use of time, enabling employees to build upon skills and stay active, engaged and positive.

Returning to work 

The return to the normal routine of office life is overwhelmingly low on many employers’ lists, with only 30% planning on going back in when it is possible to do so. The need to adapt and flex to working from home over the past eight months has begun a nationwide debate as to whether this is the death of the office space as we know it.

On one hand it may be; 96 per cent of employers believe that remote working has no negative impact on productivity, and less than 20 per cent of employees have requested to return to the office on a full-time basis.

However, as it has been widely discussed over the past few months, complete cut-off from the office environment can lead to further complications such as isolation, anxiety, depression and a severe reduction of work/life balance.

This argument has meant that, undoubtedly, our working practices will follow a much more flexible, hybrid approach post-pandemic. 90 per cent of those surveyed have stated that the choice to remote work would continue post-pandemic, with 77 per cent stating flexible working options would become the norm.

Ongoing care 

Chris Goulding, managing director of Reading-based Wade Macdonald, said: “COVID-19 has created a host of unprecedented pressures for businesses and individuals alike. While economists could have predicted the large-scale financial difficulties the world was about to witness, no one could have been prepared for the physical and mental burdens that would follow.

“The recognition of the strain the last eight months has had on internal teams has meant that a large proportion of employers are looking to seriously ramp up their support efforts indefinitely.”

76 per cent of respondents stated that their business intends to continue offering welfare support post-pandemic through EAP (88 per cent), training (44 per cent), counselling (29 per cent) and private doctors (15 per cent).

Tina Wisener, partner of Doyle Clayton, said: “What is most encouraging throughout these findings is that the importance placed on staff welfare support is not simply a fad because of the times we live in, but something that holds gravitas for many employers now and going forward. A welcome change for businesses and their teams across the country and hopefully, the right steps forward to a much happier, more resilient workforce.”