New research released in line with Mental Health Awareness Week has suggested that staff mental health worries have rocketed over the last 12 months.
The study found that more than half (51%) of employees have experienced an increase in worries relating to their mental health due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Close Brothers’ Expecting the unexpected: a spotlight on preparing for a crisis report, this is said to be a 24% increase since May 2020.
While the findings highlighted that the mental health of staff has been hugely impacted by the pandemic, its impact has significantly increased due to a year of numerous lockdowns.
For example, in the pandemic year, the research found that the percentage of 18 to 34-year-olds experiencing mental health-related worries has risen to 63%.
Among those aged 55-years-old and above, it has rocketed to 37% which is likely to be a cause of concern for the HR function.
Increased mental health worries due to the pandemic
12 months % increase
‘It’s an area of growing importance for organisations’
Yet, it seems that mental health is not the only area of wellbeing to have been affected by the pandemic.
Close Brothers’ research found that worries relating to financial health have also been impacted by a year of lockdown restrictions.
For example, around two in five (39%) of employees have experienced an increase in financial health-related worries.
Female workers (44%) have been significantly more impacted than their male colleagues (34%), with those aged between 18 and 34-years-old experiencing greater money worries (51%).
Jeanette Makings, Head of Financial Education at Close Brothers, said it’s understandable that the coronavirus crisis has had an impact on employee wellbeing, particularly on their mental and financial health.
“Tackling this, and providing the support needed, even as the majority of employees continue to work remotely, is an area of growing importance for organisations,” she added.
Worries around physical health have also been highlighted as a significant issue too, though the number experiencing this (46%) has remained steady since the pandemic hit.
The study found that almost two-thirds of employees (61%) have either already started or are planning to undertake more exercise, while 55% are looking to have healthier diets and take on other activities to improve overall mental health and wellbeing.
While Close Brothers’ study revealed the ways staff are striving to improve their overall wellbeing, it is crucial that employers and HR look to support employee mental health and wellbeing.
And separate research found that employees want to see more employer-led mental health support.
For example, 2020 research from Secondsight found that 51% of staff believe that their employer should be offering more to support worker mental health.
With this in mind, how can employers and the people function support staff mental health?
HR best practice for supporting employee mental health
One way to help staff in the workplace is to listen to staff to make sure that they feel safe and supported.
Natalie Rogers, Chief People Officer at Unum UK, explained: “The partial return to working collaboratively in face-to-face teams for those wanting to spend part of their week in offices must be handled as sensitively as possible. This next transitionary period may be very stressful and could leave many feeling mentally vulnerable.
“Taking the time to listen to individual’s feedback about ways of working day-to-day and how they envisage their future working pattern will be will not only ensure your team stays productive, but they’re positive too,” she added.
With employers starting to think about gradually returning staff to a central place of work, it is important that HR is conscious about the anxiety attached to this. As such, speaking to staff on an individual level to understand how they are feeling is key.
Offering tailored support is another way that HR could approach this. From providing mentoring or informal buddy support systems, creating mental health support groups and offering remote and flexible working options are other ways to tackle this according to Memory AI.
In a previous interview, Lauren Valent, Head of People and Culture at Candlefox, told HR Grapevine that investing in staff wellbeing is crucial for any organisation that wants to be successful.
She explained: “Failure to do so will lead to a lack of productivity, employee burnout and eventually a turnover of otherwise skilled staff who will be valued more elsewhere."