Mental health at work is more fragile after lockdown

September 16, 2020

As more workers begin to return to the office, it looks like the issue of mental health at work is going to be more fragile and fractured than ever before. Official statistics paint a damning picture of depression across the UK since the national lockdown, and as employers, I believe we have a duty to act.

Lockdown has caused significant impact on mental health

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics paint a damning picture of mental health. 

Since the intense national lockdown, ONS figures show that the overall state of our nation’s mental health has declined. When comparing mental health statistics from June 2020, with pre-lockdown numbers (July 2019 to March 2020), their recent report shows that the number of adults experiencing some form of depression has almost doubled (19.2% compared to 9.7%)

Their findings also show: 

  • Adults who were aged 16 to 39 years old, female, unable to afford an unexpected expense, or disabled were the most likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic.
  • 42.2% of adults experiencing depression during the pandemic said their relationships were affected (compared with 20.7% of adults who were not experiencing depression)
  • One in eight adults developed moderate to severe depressive symptoms during the pandemic, while around one in 16 maintained the same level of depression, and one in 25 saw an improvement.

This should be important to you as an employer, because it could mean that as your people return to work, you may find that more employees require support with their mental health.

Charity ‘Mind’ concerned with this setback

Mental health charity Mind has commented on these findings, expressing concern at the dramatic shift.

“We cannot underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health” says Sophie Corlett, Director of External Communications at Mind. “These figures show how the pandemic has affected people who were previously well and are now experiencing depressive symptoms for the first time.

This perspective worries me, because it is in direct conflict with the pre-covid interview I conducted with Mind’s CEO Paul Farmer. During this earlier interview, Paul told me that with people beginning to take mental health more seriously, the overall picture was beginning to improve.

But now the pandemic seems to have thrown a disastrous spanner into the works.

Three easy habits for better mental health at work

If you’re returning to the workplace, then some of your old habits may have faded out. Or perhaps you never developed these habits in the first place!

Either way, here are three really easy ways to promote better mental health at work. Anybody can do them, and with practice, they’ll become second nature:

  • If you can’t listen, don’t ask. In my interview with Dr Shaun Davis, I learned that one of the most effective habits that you can develop quickly, is to make sure that when you ask “how are you?”, you make time to actually listen to the answer. 
  • Stop sending emails out of hours. Professor Sir Cary Cooper advises banning emails after hours. This is especially important now that the lines between our work and our private life have become more blurred than ever due to lockdown.
  • Smile and use open body language. This is one of the many things you can do to make HR more approachable – and if you’re more approachable, then employees are more likely to trust you to help when they have a problem.

These three habits are easy to break. But I can promise you that if you put the effort into doing them early on, then over time they will just happen without a second thought.

More ways to improve mental health at work as employees begin to return

If you have a bit more time, and a few more resources, to dedicate to employee wellbeing – and I hope you do, because it is important – then you might want to consider a couple of other ideas, as we get deeper into this “new normal”.

For example, formal wellbeing training could really help. And if you want learning to stick, without overwhelming employees, then a microlearning course via a system such as Gamebrain could be gentle yet effective. Gamebrain uses gamification and microlearning to help concepts sink in easily, in a way that is engaging for the learner. You can learn more here.

And of course, if you’re familiar with the annual mental health conference Mad World, then I would highly recommend you attend this year’s digital alternative. I have personally attended Mad World every year since their very first one, and it has been an astonishing eye-opener every time. I come away buzzing with actionable ideas that have led to big improvements for the mental health and wellbeing of my colleagues.

We are not affiliated with Mad World in any way. I just think it’s a good idea.

You can register for Mad World, or find out more about it, here.

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