This week marks the return of the annual Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from the 18th to the 24th of May. Now more than ever, HR should be looking to the mental health of its employees, given the additional mental toll that the current coronavirus pandemic is having on remote workforces.
The impact of COVID-19 on mental health is evidenced by the stats. Research from Mentalhealth.org revealed that, with the latest news confirming 50,000 more redundancies due to the impact of the virus, each ten per cent increase in the number of unemployed men was significantly associated with a 1.4% increase in male suicides. One-fifth of people surveyed who identified as unemployed have had suicidal thoughts and feelings in the last two weeks – this is compared to 8.64% of people in employment.
Additionally, the report found that one in five individuals within the UK are currently suffering from the anxiety of potentially losing their jobs, whilst one-quarter of the workforce currently said that they are struggling to cope mentally with the threat of the virus. These stats demonstrate the true extent of the issue and mean that HR should be doing everything possible to support struggling employees.
To mark the significance of Mental Health Awareness Week, TSB’s HR Director Liz Ashford shared some of the initiatives that the banking firm has put in place to support employee mental health.
How does TSB support employees?
“We’ve got our employee assistance programme (EAP), where our colleagues can speak independently to trained professionals should they need it. We’re encouraging our leaders to reach out to their people to have open discussions about their specific situation and the challenges they’re facing,” she explained. As well as facilitating those conversations, the firm’s HR lead explained that they have recently partnered with a platform to help support mental health and wellbeing.
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“This new platform means all our colleagues have free and unlimited access to tools and resources to support them and it includes a variety of features based on the latest cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), neuroscience, mindfulness and positive psychology practices. Since launching this platform, I’m really pleased to see that we’ve seen many of our colleagues make the most of the platform,” she added.
Advice for HR
For HR practitioners looking to improve their mental health and wellbeing policies, and wanting to make a difference, she said: “I’d encourage anyone reading this to think about how you can demonstrate this to your colleagues. Even a small gesture can help them, a simple ‘well done’, or ‘thank you’ can make a huge difference to their day or even week.
“Or go that one step further and have regular catch-ups to check in and see how they are feeling. Keep this catch up solely focussed on them rather than anything to do with workloads or to-do lists - this has worked particularly well across my team. And as I know from my own experience, that attention we give our colleagues can make a significant difference in helping them to cope in difficult times,” she added.
‘Don’t underestimate the mixing bowl of emotions’
Ashford explained in the advisory statement that employers “cannot underestimate the mixing bowl of emotions our colleagues are experiencing; from the impact of isolation or feelings of anxiety to grief and sadness or unfortunately, all of these”. With each person being impacted in a different way, she said it is the responsibility of leaders to tailor their support to the needs of colleagues.
"Our colleagues are impacted in different ways and they are all dealing with very different problems and we must be alive to that. As responsible leaders it is our obligation to be attuned to the needs of our colleagues – put simply, we all must do more to help.”