Covid-19 has been with us for more than a year now, and the strain of the global pandemic – and the related restrictions – is taking its toll on our mental health.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 25% of UK adults were experiencing feelings of loneliness in November 2020, up from just 10% in March of that year.
During the same period, the proportion of adults who felt they were “coping well with the stress of the pandemic” fell from 73% to 63% – and that’s before the UK went back into lockdown at the start of 2021.
So whether your employees are dealing with the isolation of being furloughed or are juggling working remotely and home schooling their kids, offering effective wellbeing support is even more important during these difficult times.
“We are realising that Covid19 is going to be a longer-term challenge,” said Elspeth Treacy, head of psychological services at workplace health and wellbeing specialist Innovate Healthcare. “For companies, this means they need to offer support that keeps their employees safe, healthy, and able to work.”
Here, we explain how different employers are stepping up to the task.
Insurance company Aviva has introduced a raft of measures designed to boost employee wellbeing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The latest of these is a company-wide “winter wellbeing” initiative that gives each employee an extra day off this year.
Aviva’s chief people officer Danny Harmer said: “Our people have worked incredibly hard to support our customers throughout what has been a really difficult time for everyone.
“We want to make this winter a little bit brighter for them and say thank you. So this is an opportunity for colleagues to take a day for themselves.
“When our people are at their best, our business is at its best for our customers. “Rest is an important part of wellbeing and it’s vital that organisations create space for people to recharge their batteries wherever possible.”
Aviva’s other mental health support measures include:
- Sending each UK employee a £100 voucher to thank them for their hard work during the pandemic
- Offering 24/7 mental health support via its Employee Assistance Programme
- Providing access to the DigiCare+ smartphone app, which can help detect and manage physical and mental health issues
- Offering free access to meditation apps Headspace and Thrive
- Running a #backtobest wellbeing campaign called, with which staff can earn points for doing things that boost wellbeing, such as meditating or exercising
- Offering flexible working, with all staff on full pay regardless of the hours they are able to work during the lockdown
Delivery company Hermes UK has also taken action to support its employees through the pandemic, both by launching an online wellbeing hub, and by appointing 72 mental health ambassadors to support staff members who are struggling.
Trained in November 2020, these individuals have learnt to spot the early signs and symptoms of mental ill health, to encourage colleagues to access appropriate services, and have been charged with signposting the support available to their colleagues.
Jill Maples, HR director at Hermes UK, said: “Our vision is to create a great place to work – an environment where our employees can grow, develop and reach their potential.
“As part of this commitment, we will focus on ensuring that everyone feels supported in looking after their own mental health as well as those around them.
“This is ever more important as we all continue to feel the impact of the pandemic on almost every aspect of our lives.”
Banking group Santander UK already had a comprehensive wellbeing programme in place prior to Covid-19, including free access to the Thrive meditation app, mental health training for line managers, and an employee-led mental wellbeing network.
Nevertheless, it has since increased the level of mental health support available in an effort to ensure its staff can access the help they need during lockdown.
“We’ve recently added in-app coaching, offering employees access to trained psychologists who will reply within 30 seconds to provide support,” said Damien Shieber, head of culture and inclusion at Santander UK.
‘We’ve also introduced a series of wellbeing webinars on a range of topics including remote working and coping with possible anxiety during unsettling times.”
As the companies profiled here show, supporting employee mental health has become a priority for many employers.
The reasons for this are not just altruistic. The bottom line is that healthy, happy employees are good for business; figures from Deloitte indicate that poor mental health already cost UK businesses up to £45 billion a year pre Covid-19.
So even if you only have a very limited budget to spend on employee wellbeing, taking steps to help your workforce stay mentally healthy throughout this second lockdown could pay dividends.
According to Treacy, easy ways to do this include:
- Advocating a positive work/life balance by encouraging staff to clock off on time and take a proper lunch break
- Using technology to stay connected with colleagues via collaborative platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Skype
- Ensuring employees are aware of any support tools that are available to them – either through the company or via the NHS
- What to do if you want help with your mental health
- How to help your employees with their mental health
- Making a difference: how to become a Mental Health First Aider
Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.