Mental health awareness week: Workplace mental health in the coronavirus era

This week is mental health awareness week in the UK. Falling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and just as the UK starts to take its initial steps to get back to business, the timing provides a perfect opportunity for employers to reflect on their support for staff mental health and to consider how their mental wellbeing strategy should evolve given the new ways of working which have been enforced by Coronavirus but which are likely to be in place for some time to come.

To mark the launch of the UK Employment Law podcast series, Partners Vinita Arora and Jane Hannon discuss mental health at work and the particular issues which the COVID-19 pandemic raises.

There has been a marked increase in work-related stress and anxiety over the last two months – some employees are worried about the health risks of coronavirus and their safety in the workplace; others have experienced feelings of isolation working at home during lockdown; many are under increased pressure combining work with home-schooling children or caring for a relative; there are those whose work has dropped off and are worried about the risk of redundancy, while for others workload demands have soared because colleagues are off sick or on furlough.

At the same time as this surge in the prevalence of stress and anxiety, businesses have been forced into a position where the mental health of their staff is more difficult than ever to manage. Spotting the signs that an individual is suffering from mental ill health, holding difficult conversations, and taking steps to manage the balance between the employee and employer interests – never easy in normal circumstances – can prove extremely tricky when staff are, for example, working at home, on furlough, or covering up because of concerns about job security. Despite these challenges, however, businesses must recognise that the consequences of failing to manage employee mental health properly remain the same as always – there are risks of employee absence; increased staff turnover; financial costs, brand reputation; and where things go badly wrong, possible legal claims for constructive dismissal, personal injury, disability discrimination; and whistleblowing.

All of this points to a need to make employee mental health a priority part of an employer’s business agenda at this stage in the Coronavirus crisis.

To hear Vinita and Jane discuss this and other matters on managing employee mental health, click below to access our podcast.