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COVID: Building the ‘New Workplace Normal’ - Level 3: Prepare for the 'mental health tsunami'

After the SARS epidemic, levels of post traumatic stress disorder increased exponentially, andanxiety and depression also dramatically increased. COVID is no different, and in fact is expected to have an even greater mental health impact due to its far reaching global impact. Early data is indeed already showing a worrying increase in mental health conditions, and there is simply not enough primary care resources available to manage them, which means that the employers will need to step up to support their staff during this difficult time.

For some employees, returning to the workplace post lockdown will provoke fear and PTSD-like symptoms, whilst general anxiety about COVID infection and health is expected to be widespread. For others, working from home will have to become the norm for the foreseeable future which will require embedding new support mechanisms for remote working, check-ins, and flexible working, as well as new ways to maintain employee engagement and team cohesion in the absence of the traditional office environment.

In all these scenarios, it is not only HR and Occupational Health that need to step up, but in addition team leaders and line managers need to be trained to be able to play a critical role in maintaining employee morale and safety. Research shows that line managers have one of the biggest impacts on employee wellbeing, as well as providing an important first response role in identifying direct reports who may be suffering and are in need of extra support.

This requires specialist line management training, and scalable solutions that can identify areas of need, stimulate conversations, and select and provide the right mental health solutions in the workplace. Fortunately a hybrid of digital and personal solutions can play a key role in supporting employees, and if services are supported by the evidence and grounded in clinical governance, they can provide scalable solutions with measurable impact.

Whilst recognising poor mental health and providing the right support to those most in need is vital, it’s also important to understand that mental health is a continuum and we can all experience better or worse mental health at different times in our life. COVID has no doubt affected us all, and therefore we all need support with maintaining positive mental health through these challenging times. This means proactively promoting ways to manage stress and mood day to day - as well as having authentic conversations with people on how they feel and what they need.

Finally, it’s important that we spend time helping employees optimise their work and home environment (and the balance between them) so that they can maintain good physical & mental health as well as work productivity. This will differ by organisation, for instance by whether employees are primarily working on site or remotely. However, what is common, is the published literature on the barriers and drivers of wellbeing and productivity in the workplace and at home. These can be very helpful for both identifying problems and choosing the right evidence-based solutions going forward..

We would love to hear about your experience of how you are supporting the mental health of employees post COVID. What do you see the major challenges being? Please get in touch or leave a comment.

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