Has Covid-19 shifted perceptions of mental health for good?

21 May 2020

78% of organisations have seen an increase in requests for mental health support – but there's a silver lining

We teamed up with the Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) to explore how Covid-19 has impacted employee mental health and what this means for organisations. The report analyses how perceptions around mental health are shifting, where companies may be investing over the next year, and what this all means for the future of mental health at work. 

The findings arrive as the UK celebrates Mental Health Awareness Week and we enter the eighth week of lockdown.

Covid-19 poses an immediate physical health risk – but its impact on mental health has remained high on the agenda in the media and our boardrooms. As the topic enters the mainstream, part of the increase in requests for mental health support could be due to the lifting of stigmas, with employees now feeling emboldened to speak out and ask for help.

This heralds a tipping point for the mental health agenda, and the role employers play in empowering their people to look after their own mental health. Indeed, 88% of respondents believe employee mental health support will now receive greater backing at board level.

And the conversation isn't limited to the top table, with 88% of companies also reporting that discussions around employee mental health had increased at senior management level too.

As part of this movement, over 70% of businesses are committing to increasing investment into mental health support for their employees. This is undoubtably linked to the fact that over half (55%) of businesses believe the mental health implications of Covid-19 will negatively affect performance over the next year.

The biggest area of increased spending is reported to be on mental health training – both for employees and line managers. Meanwhile 60% of organisations are committing to increasing investment in digital mental wellbeing platforms and apps.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • 90% of businesses have increased their emphasis on the importance of employee mental health as a result of the pandemic.
  • 85% believe the virus has negatively impacted their employees’ mental health, or will do in the future. 
  • Less than 2% of businesses have seen a decrease in requests for mental health support.
  • Less than 2% of businesses think the pandemic will not have an impact on employee mental health.

Dr Nick Taylor, CEO of Unmind and Clinical Psychologist, commented on the data:

“The findings show that recent events have triggered a profound and positive shift in how we think about and look after our mental wellbeing. As a society the majority of us have never experienced anything like this pandemic, and it is more important than ever that organisations are prepared to empower their employees to thrive in life and work.

“Our mental health is determined by many aspects of life, from physical fitness and sleep, to friendship networks and family relationships, to self-esteem and mindset. These areas are interwoven, with each impacting the next, and the virus has impacted every facet. To help us lead a mentally healthy and balanced life, we should think of ourselves as the sum of all of those parts, and do what we can to nourish each.

“We cannot underestimate the long-term impact of this pandemic on our mental health, but should also remain optimistic about what this means for the topic. It’s so important that businesses respond to this shift and use it as an opportunity to propel their mental health strategies forward to meet the needs and expectations of their people.”

Debi O’Donovan, Director at REBA, added:

“Attitudes towards mental health in the workplace have been changing steadily for the last decade but the lockdown has most definitely accelerated this. As more people, especially in senior leadership teams, speak openly about the impacts of the pandemic on wellbeing, it is great to see a shift among board directors towards actioning change.

“As the report demonstrates, organisations are aware of the impact that Covid-19 will have after the lockdown ends. The increase in conversations by senior management and Board members about mental health is particularly notable in the survey results. It is important that we invest now and adopt a proactive approach to prevent problems arising and ensure we are supporting our employees as much as possible throughout a period that will continue to be strenuous on their mental health.”

The report surveyed 151 British companies from across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. This included organisations such as BT, Centrica, Shell International, John Lewis & Partners, Marks and Spencer and TSB. Of the companies surveyed, 73% had over 500 employees. In total, the businesses that responded to the survey represent more than half a million employees.

Read the full report

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