Over a year since lockdown began in March 2020, the pandemic continues to disrupt many of our normal ways of life, including the way we work. While physical health and economic recovery appear to be areas which Covid has impacted the most, there is another factor which must be acknowledged: Covid’s impact on mental health. In a recent survey by Westfield Health, 1600 people were asked about their mental health during the pandemic and Covid’s hidden impact on mental wellbeing in the workplace.
More Mental Health Days
According to this study, 10% more mental health days were taken in 2020 in comparison to 2019, which can be attributed to the mental stress caused by the pandemic. In addition, many employees book mental health days as annual leave or illness, which suggests how many individuals feel unable to admit struggling with mental health in the workplace.
Mental Health at Home
Over the past year, many have made their home their workplace, and have adapted to online working styles. However, the mental impact of working from home can often be underexaggerated.
When working from home, the line between work hours and time off can often become blurred, and time spent working and relaxing can be harder to separate, which can cause increased stress and anxiety. Employers must encourage their workforce to use techniques to separate their work and home lives, for example using a separate room as an office, or discouraging work-related communications after a certain time each evening or on weekends.
As well as staff who are working remotely, furloughed staff are another group who are likely to struggle with mental health challenges during the pandemic. With the easing of lockdown restrictions remaining uncertain, furloughed workers can feel anxiety over the security of their job. Staff returning to work from furlough may have difficulty adapting to working full time again. Employers should show acknowledgement of the challenges faced by furloughed staff and offer the opportunity for additional mental support for those who appear to be struggling.
The effect of Mental Health in the Workplace
When an employee’s mental health is struggling, their productivity and motivation will fall, producing a lower standard of work. Over a third (36%) of employees reported that their productivity is negatively affected by their mental health at least once a week. It is impossible to ignore the role that Covid plays in the mental health of the UK’s workforce, as 28% of employees reported that they feel less engaged than last year.
While mental health days can impact a company, the impact of not supporting mental health is far greater, as encouraging mental health days where needed will benefit employees in their long-term health.
Presenteeism and Mental Health
Presenteeism is defined as when an employee attends work, either in person or remotely, when they should have been absent. This could be due to illness, injury or mental health issues. While the employee technically present for work, they will be unfocused and their quality of work will be lower, meaning that mistakes are likely to occur. Not only does this create risks for the employer, but this is also potentially damaging to the individual’s health.
One of the biggest causes of Presenteeism is mental health. Mental health is not only harder to notice than a physical health issue, but it is often harder to talk about. With many more people working from home this past year, spotting these problems in employees becomes an even bigger challenge. Despite feeling unmotivated and unproductive, employees will often exaggerate their online presence without communicating their anxieties. In a socially distanced workplace, these issues can frequently go unnoticed. Despite the social distanced nature of online work, both employees and employers should encourage communication more than ever surrounding mental health to ensure employee wellbeing.