Mental health lockdown: Supporting employee wellbeing in a time of unprecedented crisis
Yesterday, the Government launched a new public campaign to get people talking openly about loneliness in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. As people remain isolated in their homes and the upheaval of daily routines continues, mental health and wellbeing is climbing up the agenda. As government and mental health charities seek to respond, we look at how businesses need to adapt and play their part.
The implications of the pandemic on mental health
Coronavirus has and will continue to change the way the world views mental health. For the first time in history, everyone, irrespective of who you are, where you are and what you do, is facing a situation that has a huge impact on mental health and wellbeing for a variety of reasons.
Data shows us that large-scale crises lead to an increase in mental distress, with the Metro reporting that after the SARS epidemic there was a rise in diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder in doctors and patients. The impact of coronavirus will arguably be even more widespread, given its direct bearing on the daily lives of the vast majority of the global population.
One mental health charity, SANE, has warned that in the UK, the lockdown is storing up a mental health epidemic behind closed doors. Even before the lockdown, polling commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that almost two thirds of people in the UK felt anxious about coronavirus.
The response from government
Politicians are acutely aware of the stresses that individuals face during this period. The current crisis led the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to release an extra £1m of funding for mental health services north of the border, whilst the UK government directed an extra £5m to wellbeing charities across the UK.
Regional authorities have also sought to rise to the challenge with Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, launching new services to deal with the increase in numbers of people seeking help during this period.
Not only are politicians announcing support schemes, but they are also opening up about their personal experiences during this time. Sadiq Khan has spoken about how difficult it can be to ‘keep our spirits up’.
The role of business
Nonetheless, charities and government cannot answer the call alone. Business also has an integral role to play. Indeed, advisers closest to the Prime Minister have made it clear that taking obligations towards employees seriously, is as important as companies working to help the country get through these unprecedented times.
The magnitude of the situation needs a collaborative response and individual organisations have a huge role to play. Whether employees are now working remotely or are carrying out essential work in factories, warehouses and on the road, businesses continue to have a duty of care to support the health and wellbeing, both mental and physical, of their workforce.
There are already compelling examples of companies that prioritise mental health and foster a culture of wellbeing. These include Sweaty Betty’s collaboration with Stylist’s Reclaim Your Lunchbreak campaign and Unilever, Virgin Money and Dixons Carphone’s founding corporate partnerships of Heads Together.
Nevertheless, the current situation has challenged businesses to adapt and create new ways to support their employees. Depending on the resource and culture of an organisation there are lots of great examples to follow. At Lexington, we’re encouraging a fun and social environment during remote working by hosting virtual bingo and pub quizzes. We’ve also run virtual baking competitions for charity through our digital tools such as Slack, set up to enable collaborative ways of working and maintain more informal lines of communication. Large companies are adopting a similar approach. Goldman Sachs, for example, offers cooking classes via Zoom, virtual prayer sessions and virtual story time for children.
Providing an enhanced support network and maintaining transparency is also key. Lloyds Banking Group has offered access to its ‘Your Resilience’ tool which more than 8,000 colleagues are using. Through the platform, colleagues can access new coronavirus related content in the form of articles, animations and podcasts.
The need for business to take mental health seriously is nothing new, with the economic impact on employers calculated in the government-backed Thriving at Work report. However, this responsibility has been greatly accentuated by the current crisis. COVID-19 has undeniably brought the integral role of the employer in supporting the mental health of their workforce into sharper focus. Ultimately, a little goes a long way and will stand you in good stead for the future sustainability, resilience and growth of your business.
If you would like to find out more about what you can do to play your part and set up mental health support initiatives within your workplace then please email firstname.lastname@example.org.