Third of firms have improved mental health support during Covid, poll finds

Experts welcome increased focus on psychological wellbeing, but warn line managers must also be equipped to offer help in the longer term

More than a third of UK employers have said the mental health support they offer has improved since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a recent poll. 

In a survey of 2,000 businesses, carried out by YouGov on behalf of Acas, found that 36 per cent of employers felt their mental health support was better following Covid, including more than one in 10 (11 per cent) that said their mental health support was “a lot better” and 25 per cent that said it was “a little better”.

In comparison, half of firms (50 per cent) said their mental health support had stayed the same, while 9 per cent said it was worse. Another 6 per cent said they did not know.

However, Ben Willmott, head of public policy at CIPD, said it was “positive that many employers seem to have stepped up their efforts”, but warned it was important that mental health remained a high priority over the long term.

"Employers need to focus on addressing the underlying causes of stress or poor mental health in the workplace such as excessive workloads, conflict or lack of work-life balance,” he added, suggesting they could do this by training managers to manage people properly and providing support and flexibility where staff need it.

This was echoed by Susan Clews, chief executive of Acas, who said it was “important for businesses to invest in the wellbeing of their workers as they open up again” given that almost one in 10 saw support deteriorate.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

Ngozi Weller, co-founder of Aurora Wellness, said the poll’s findings had reflected what her organisation was seeing on the ground, and that there had been an increase in wellbeing support.

But, she said: “There's definitely a question of quality that needs to be addressed in terms of how helpful and effective the strategies and mental health support services are for employees.”

More than just awareness and employee assistance programmes, employers needed to ensure line managers had a thorough understanding about what good and poor mental health looked like, said Weller, and needed to be equipped to support employees and signpost them to additional help. 

Kelly Metcalf, head of diversity, inclusion and wellbeing at Fujitsu, said there was room for optimism, pointing to the decision by companies including LinkedIn and Bumble to give employees time off to help with burnout. Just this week Nike announced a ‘power down’ week off for its US head office staff.

However, Metcalf said: “While a week off or mental health days can help, going forward it’s important employers understand that, when supporting mental health and wellbeing, each individual’s experiences are their own.”

The best way to acknowledge this was by making sure line managers are educated and trained to be confident in supporting their teams on a challenging topic, she said. “This is about ensuring people feel cared for by their employer and it can only be done on a case-by-case basis.”