’41 percent of us have experienced worsened mental health since the start of the first lockdown’

Brendan Street Nuffield Health

Brendan Street

According to Nuffield Health’s recent Healthier Nation Index, 41% of us have experienced worsened mental health since the start of the first lockdown. The worrying statistic comes as many of us are navigating a changing workplace, financial worries and reduced physical activity.

As lockdown restrictions continue to ease – with many workplaces now re-opened – we won’t simply see a return to ‘life as normal’. For many, the mental health impact of the pandemic will carry into the ‘new normal’.

More than a fifth (21%) of Britons – or an estimated 11.4 million people- think employers should undertake mandatory reporting on the physical and wellbeing initiatives they have in place to improve the physical and emotional wellbeing of their staff.

Considering the findings from their recent survey, Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health, uses the company’s latest research to offer advice to businesses as they return to the workplace:

31% said their financial health has worsened over the last 12 months

“With much of the stress and anxiety surrounding the pandemic stemming from financial worries, employers have a significant role to play in supporting workers.

“The priority should be to communicate the support available. This may include providing speedy access to psychological support via mental health specialists.
Evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) allow individuals to speak with a therapist who can provide them with effective tools to understand and manage a range of difficulties, like worries about their financial situation and how to cope in the future.

“Employers should consider signposting employees towards support from financial specialists. This may mean inviting an expert into the workplace to run a seminar on money management, or simply emailing all staff with educational resources and contact information for services that provide help with money problems.”

47 percent are nervous about socialising after lockdown ends

“Some employees may have anxiety about going back to work, commuting on public transport, or have experienced difficult situations during lockdown. It’s important to avoid putting pressure on returning staff to take on too much too soon. Instead, consider a graded or phased return to duties.

“Employers should also communicate the changes they’re making to the workplace for those nervous about a physical return. This can help alleviate feelings of anxiety in employees who worry they may be stigmatised for fearing an immediate return to ‘normality’.

“If possible, employers should avoid the threat of disciplinary action if staff continue to express safety concerns and reluctance to return to the workplace. Instead, employers should encourage all staff to raise any health and safety concerns and take them seriously. Perhaps alternative options are available like a hybrid solution combining both workplace and home working.”

Only 52 percent are aware of the steps they could take to boost their mental and physical health

“It’s a worrying statistic that only half of us know the steps we can take to improve our health. And it shows how important the role of the employer is in educating and supporting individuals in learning healthy, helpful behaviours.

“Staff are in agreement with this, with 37 percent of our research recipients thinking businesses should make resources available on how to boost mental and physical wellbeing.

“This may include inviting health specialists into the office to provide wellbeing seminars or mindfulness workshops, equipping employees with the knowledge to start improving their health.

“However, it’s also important to remember that everyone is different and will require different interventions to help them return to maximum fitness.

“Nearly half (46%) of Britons believe that free health checks for all staff should be provided by employers. In light of this, employers should consider offering Personalised digital health assessments to give employees access to a health expert or tool which provides tailored recommendations, based on the information they provide.”

54 percent claim their work is having an impact on their mental health, while 50 percent specifically cited overworking as a barrier to doing physical activity

“The impact of long-term remote working has taken its toll on employees who struggle to switch-off. It increases the likelihood of employees over working (e.g. blurred work/life boundaries when working from home and adding commute time back into their weekly routines) leading to Hybrid Burnout.

“Research confirms remote and hybrid workers regularly exceed their expected working hours, continue to reply to emails late in the evening and engage in ‘bedmin’. While they may see this as harmless and proactive, the reality is, it’s difficult to relax or engage in physical activity when you’re used to being ‘always on’.

“Employers should provide advice on separating work and home life and outline employee expectations from the outset. This means defining working hours and letting employees know they aren’t expected to reply to emails outside of them.

“Line managers should be equipped to recognise distress in others and be confident in supporting them. Emotional literacy training and mental health awareness training for managers is designed to equip leaders with effective knowledge, tools and skills.

“Employers should consider the language used regarding mental health in the workplace to ensure that there is a culture where conversations about mental health are seen as welcomed and expected.”

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