Could Covid-19 change mental health support in the workplace?

Article by Nic Redfern, finance director of NerdWallet

Mental HealthThe economic impact of COVID-19 on many businesses has been impossible to ignore.

Three national lockdowns, in addition to numerous social distancing restrictions caused major disruption to the operational capacity of many businesses. Consequently, many depended on the Government’s emergency support schemes to stay afloat.

This has inevitably placed a great deal of stress on the UK’s workforce – particularly when it came to job security. And rightly, many businesses have gone to great lengths to offer reassurances to staff and help them combat their anxieties throughout the pandemic.

Indeed, measures such as organising virtual socials to combat loneliness, or hosting company-wide meetings to allow employees to raise any concerns they might, will have all gone a long in maintaining staff wellbeing.

But it is important to remember that those in leadership roles are not exempt from such stress and anxiety. A recent survey of over 900 UK managers conducted by NerdWallet revealed that the majority (54%) had found the previous twelve months the most challenging of their careers.

Evidently, much of the burden of the pandemic has fallen onto those at senior management levels within businesses. And this is an issue that must be addressed urgently.

The source of the problem

COVID-19 has forced many managers to make difficult decisions about their team’s careers. And such decisions could be causing a deterioration in their mental health.

According to NerdWallet’s aforementioned research, more than half (56%) of managers have had to put at least one member of staff on furlough, while 44% were forced to make at least one employee redundant. These challenging moments will inevitably result in increased pressure for managers, and strain relationships with staff.

Meanwhile, over two fifths (42%) admitted to withholding information about the company’s health and standing in order to keep their teams relaxed and productive. This data suggests that, in an attempt to shield their staff from the pressures of the pandemic, managers are jeopardising their own wellbeing.

It is clear to see from the research that a substantial number of managers have felt increased pressure – what’s worse is many now find themselves isolated and without the support structure necessary to offset these issues.

Work-life balance

It is widely accepted that sharing one’s problems with a trusted friend or family member can be an effective method of managing stress. However, NerdWallet’s research suggests that many managers are reluctant or feel unable to do so.

The study highlighted that some 52% of managers have seen their relationships with friends and family suffer as a direct result of the added professional stress brought on by Covid-19. Meanwhile, 49% reported feeling more isolated and alone.

With many managers bottling up their issues, many are finding it impossible to relax outside of working hours. Indeed, almost six in ten (57%) find it difficult to ‘switch off’ from work throughout the pandemic, whilst 45% admitted ‘losing sleep’ over tough decisions and pressure caused by work.

One silver lining found in the study was that more than one-third of UK managers (37%) had sought professional help to manage the stress they were under – though this falls some way short of the number reporting serious signs of feeling the strain.

Driving change

Business leadership should take an active role in driving changes that will grant employees at all levels access to mental health support.

A positive start would be looking at existing budgets allocations to ensure staff wellbeing is adequately funded. In some cases, this will mean funding more social events for colleagues to wind down and interact in a more relaxed setting. Other companies might consider investing in access to professional counselling. Simply knowing that help is at hand should they need it will be a relief to many in a time of stress.

Firms may also see the benefit of encouraging managers and teams to take time away from work. This may involve implementing a hard deadline on shutting down their work devices each day, or reminders that they are not obliged to respond to work emails late at night or during the weekends. This will empower workers to adopt a more harmonious work-life balance.

Facilitating more flexibility at work could unlock the tensions between home and work environments while offices are closed. The ability for working hours to adapt around the demands of life would be one step for businesses to allow their staff to feel more supported, while allowing ‘mental health days’ would effectively prevent managers allowing pressure to build up and overwhelm them.

There are an encouraging number of firms and managers reporting successful integrations of remote mental health support structures. That said, businesses must be consistent and not allow their preparations or investment in this area to fall to the wayside on return to an office environment. In the short term, it is evident that managers have felt increasingly isolated, and that without meaningful and effective support, the burden of pressure will only grow.

Nic RedfernAbout the author

Nic Redfern is finance director for NerdWallet UK. NerdWallet is on a mission to provide clarity for all of life’s financial decisions. As an independent financial comparison website, NerdWallet provides consumers and businesses with useful tools and insights so they can make smart money moves. From choosing a bank account or breakdown cover to buying a house, NerdWallet is there to help individuals make financial decisions with confidence. Users have free access to our comparison tables and expert content, to help them stay on top of their finances and save time and money, giving them the freedom to do more.

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