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Employee mental and physical wellbeing must remain a business priority

As social distancing continues, it’s more important than ever for businesses to ensure they are taking steps to support employee mental, physical and social wellbeing.

Mental health issues will continue to manifest in different ways as people adjust to the longer-term changes to life and daily routines

As we mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 (18-24 May) it’s important that businesses use this as an opportunity to reflect on the wellbeing and experiences of their people and help drive open conversations around mental health at what is a difficult time for everyone.

According to recent ONS data, almost half of the UK population are reporting higher stress since lockdown was imposed, and several reports have highlighted a surge in domestic abuse cases as restrictions remain in place.

Meanwhile, research from LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation showed 56% of people are feeling more anxious or stressed, 24% are struggling with their mental health and nearly a third (31%) are having difficulty sleeping.

As the majority of lockdown restrictions continue, and as the country tries to find a way to restart parts of the economy, businesses and HR teams need to consider the support they have in place that will enable their people to safeguard their wellbeing. This will be vital to ensuring businesses emerge from the crisis with a strong workforce that can help better navigate the recovery process.

With schools still closed and speculation over whether they might open again in June, many working parents and other carers are likely to be balancing a number of personal and professional commitments.

Considering how policies such as parental leave could be adapted at this time, or even taking a more flexible approach to working hours, could help many people in these challenging circumstances. For example, at EY, we have doubled a period of special leave for those with caring responsibilities in emergency situations.

Creating a sense of community and taking the time to ask colleagues questions about their experience is key. The range of experiences during this time and the impact of individual situations on wellbeing should not be underestimated.

A multitude of challenges could arise from, for example, caring responsibilities, living alone, self-isolating with a long-term health condition or adapting to remote working with a disability. Taking the time to understand how people are feeling is crucial for implementing wellbeing initiatives that will have a real impact.

We’ve seen a number of businesses taking a proactive approach, introducing new ideas for bringing their people together and providing practical guidance and support.

From offering mindfulness or meditation classes, virtual coffee sessions and social events such as virtual quiz evenings, to encouraging people to take regular breaks and connect with colleagues – these small steps can make a significant difference.

More broadly, there are a number of resources and materials that are accessible to everyone – signposting to these in internal communications can be a helpful reminder of external support that is freely available outside of the business.

Mental health charity MIND provides advice on how to cope, while the Mental Health Foundation, which is part of the national mental health response for the outbreak, has been promoting a range of mental health guidance and support.

With the rise in domestic abuse cases reported in the media, businesses can also take steps to engage with charities like Hestia and the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse to help shape and inform any support they can offer to their employees.

The long-term nature of the current situation means businesses must continue to review how they are supporting their people. With a return to pre-COVID-19 life still some way off, it’s crucial that businesses prioritise wellbeing efforts as the health of their workforce will be critical to recovering from the impact and restoring normality.

Justine Campbell is managing partner for talent at EY UK&I