One in four employees have had no mental health check-ins during the pandemic, poll finds

Experts warn of ‘criminal’ lack of communication with staff over their wellbeing, and urge businesses to encourage openness and train line managers appropriately

A quarter of employees have had no wellbeing check-ins since the start of the pandemic, a survey has revealed, leading to calls from experts for employers to “catch up” to the mental health crisis.

In the poll of 2,000 workers by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, 25 per cent said their workplace had not checked in on their mental health since the crisis hit a year ago. Similarly, nearly a third (29 per cent) have never had a conversation with their line manager about their mental health.

Only a third (32 per cent) of employees said mental health and wellbeing support improved over the pandemic, compared to 43 per cent of respondents who said their support stayed the same or worsened. Two-fifths (41 per cent) said they had less frequent wellbeing check-ins or none at all.

MHFA England has called on employers to increase support for employees, including encouraging regular wellbeing check-ins, facilitating activities to stay connected and ensuring managers have the training and resources to support staff.

Tom Oxley, workplace mental health strategist and chief trainer at Bamboo Mental Health, said the lack of communication between employers and their staff was “criminal – almost literally”.

“The Health and Safety Executive says you need to consult and assess risk, wherever your employees work,” he said. “With zero wellbeing communication, I would be concerned about the safety strategy and cultural practices of an organisation or a manager that would cast employees adrift.”

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This was echoed by Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, who said the survey’s findings reflected the “continued impact” coronavirus was having on the nation’s mental health. “Isolation, anxiety, loss and trauma are affecting millions of people as a result of Covid-19, and this will affect every workplace in the country,” he said.

“Mental health problems cost businesses £35bn in the UK before Covid-19. It’s likely that will grow this year as a result of what many of us have experienced over the last 12 months.”

But, Bell said, there were simple steps employers could take to reduce the impact on their workforce’s mental health. Businesses can give their staff more control over how they work, and be more flexible with their policies on compassionate leave or caring responsibilities.

“A culture of being open about mental health at every level, encouraging people to seek help when they need it and training managers can all make people feel more confident and connected,” Bell added.

The survey also found that women’s mental health had suffered more than men’s. More than two-thirds of women reported decreased confidence at work because of the pandemic, compared to less than a third of men (68 per cent and 31 per cent respectively). Women were also much more likely than men to report feeling lonely or isolated during the crisis (64 per cent and 36 per cent respectively).

Amy McKeown, mental health strategist and consultant, said it was unsurprising that more women than men felt isolated and lonely – and were suffering the mental health consequences – given the evidence that the pandemic has disproportionately affected them in other ways. “Thought needs to be put into how to support women's health and mental health in the workplace because their needs can be different to men,” she said.

“The silver lining of the pandemic, if there is one, is a chance for worker wellbeing to become a board-level, strategic issue with subsequent levels of investment and support. 

“I’d like to see a more strategic focus on health, mental health and wellbeing, with employers creating and implementing end-to-end strategies across the workforce. There needs to be an investment in health providers and support and a recognition that employees will need time, space and help to get over the Covid fatigue of the last year.”

Tamsen Garrie, director of culture and associates at Mental Health In The Workplace, said the key was to empower employees to take responsibility for their own mental and physical health.

“Organisations that invest in good-quality training in mental health, and also in training specifically for managers on how to both create the conditions for people to thrive at work, and spot the signs of compromised mental health and provide appropriate support, see an improvement in employee wellbeing, and in organisational outcomes as a result,” she said.