Half of workers have received no Covid mental health support, poll finds

Employees report worse psychological wellbeing since the crisis hit, with the majority saying they would not reach out to HR for help

More than half (56 per cent) of UK workers haven’t received any mental health advice or support from their employer since the pandemic hit in March, a survey has found. 

The study by mental health organisation TalkOut surveyed 1,500 UK workers in September and found that 85 per cent did not think mental health support had been their employer’s priority during the crisis. 

This was despite the finding that over a third (35 per cent) reported worse mental health now compared to before the pandemic. Additionally, more than two-thirds (68 per cent) felt anxious and apprehensive about returning to work, and half (51 per cent) said they had felt uncertain about the future of their job since March. 

Despite this rise in anxiety, the survey revealed that a third (31 per cent) of employees were having fewer one-to-one meetings with their bosses compared to before the pandemic, and three in five (60 per cent) said their employer had not organised any virtual social activities to support them while working from home.

Vicky Pawsey, director at Papillon Psychology, said that a sustained focus on the psychological health of employees as the pandemic continued to unfold was “critical”. 

“It is incumbent on employers to make sure that those involved in providing employees with support are equipped with the sometimes complex range of skills and resources involved, and importantly that there is also appropriate provision for ‘supporting the supporters’,” said Pawsey. 

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“Central to this too will be understanding how our working environments, whether remote or face to face, make people feel – and whether people feel safe to speak up about the issues they are facing.”

Jill Mead, chief executive of TalkOut, said the crisis had made clear there was “still a long way to go when it comes to providing effective support to employees”. She added that emotional wellbeing was an afterthought for many businesses faced with adapting to remote working. 

“A positive and supportive workplace can make all the difference when it comes to mental health and, now more than ever, businesses have a duty of care to their workforce,” she said. 

The survey also revealed a disconnect between some employees and HR departments, with only 15 per cent saying they would feel comfortable speaking to HR about feelings of stress and anxiety. Two-fifths (41 per cent) said they would speak to their line manager. However, a worrying 17 per cent said they wouldn’t reach out to anyone if they were suffering poor mental health. 

Kunjan Zaveri, former HR manager at iX.co, said HR had a vital role to play in ensuring employees received mental health and wellbeing support as we “traverse through these difficult times”. 

“It is crucial that HR and other departments work collaboratively to increase employee engagement through virtual activities such as online virtual quiz sessions, yoga classes and interactive learning sessions,” said Zaveri.

“HR plays a pivotal role in shaping the organisation's culture and mental health of employees. Regular temperature check-ins with teams, and especially with those individuals who are suffering from mental health issues, is vitally important.”

Zaveri added it was important to “strike the right balance” and empower others to provide support if an employee did not feel comfortable opening up to HR. “Our role as HR professionals should focus on creating inclusive cultures and partnering with line managers to empower their teams to safeguard each other,” he said.