The Covid-19 pandemic has posed new challenges to mental health in the workplace.

Mental health-related absence was already the most common reason for long-term absence in UK workplaces before the pandemic. [1]

It is reasonable to assume, although collecting enough data is difficult, that the effects of Covid-19 and national lockdowns will increase this number further.

The anxiety surrounding Covid-19 has dropped since the turn of the year, however, there are other conditions that have become more prevalent during the pandemic. carried out surveys on anxiety during Covid-19[3]

This is a promising trend, but the more serious mental health issues caused by the pandemic have increased, including those who have experienced suicidal thoughts. survey on those who have experienced suicidal thoughts[3]

While there is currently little to no legislation regarding Covid-19 and mental health in the workplace, The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) have highlighted that employers have a ‘duty of care’.

This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.[2]

This includes:

  • making sure the working environment is safe
  • protecting staff from discrimination
  • carrying out risk assessments [2]

ACAS recommend arranging mental health training for managers and staff, appointing mental health ‘champions’ who staff can talk to, and promoting existing wellbeing support.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has released guidelines on how employers can best prepare for the return of staff, and what extra considerations need to be in place.

Their advice on the return of specifically those who have been on furlough is that “It may well be worth talking to people on an individual basis if they have concerns. Depending on your business plans, some form of hybrid working or a ‘phased’ return might be suitable.” [1]

The CIPD also highlight that the pandemic will have affected many people in different ways. Some will have anxiety regarding catching Covid-19, some will have experienced bereavement, difficult domestic situations, as well as social isolation and loneliness.

Providing a multifaceted and flexible return to work plan is key, as well as promoting the resources available to help those struggling with their mental health.

The NHS has released a lot of resources as part of their ‘Every Mind Matters’ campaign, with some pertinent to feeling safe when returning to work and helping with the financial anxiety caused by the pandemic.[4]

However, the ‘workplace’ for many has become their own homes. While some have found it difficult, others have thrived under the new flexibility of working from home. Organisations that have enacted good policies allowing their employees to switch off at home have seen good responses, with one report showing 80% of workers preferring flexible working options post-pandemic.[5]

[1] 2021. Covid-19: Mental health support for employees

[2] 2021. Covid-19 and mental health at work

[3] 2021. Research and Policies: Wave 10 Late February

[4] 2021. Every Mind Matters

[5]Wiest, Brianna. 2021. Forbes Women. Remote work shown to significantly improve mental health

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Mental health related absences were the most common reason for long-term absence prior to the pandemic, we looked at how Covid-19 might further impact that.

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