Employee mental health needs to be safeguarded

A large number of the working-age population have reported feeling stressed at work amid the growing uncertainty of Coronavirus, according to City & Guilds Group

The added pressure that COVID-19 has had on workers due to school closures and questions around job security has added to potential employee burnout.

Elizabeth McManus, head of leading transformation and engagement at City & Guilds Group told HR magazine the rise and spread of Covid-19 has presented both an unprecedented and unforeseen crisis across the globe that has lead to new pressures that could affect employee mental health.

“As more and more companies are asking their workforce to work remotely, an urgent question falls to leaders and managers as to how they will gauge the wellbeing and reactions of their teams if they can no longer physically interact with them each day,” said McManus.

“With Covid-19 significantly increasing levels of anxiety and stress among employees, it serves to emphasise the vital importance of businesses implementing sustainable and inclusive ways of working and mental health workplace policies, necessary to protect the mental wellbeing of their staff.”

The Leading in a Digital Age report, published by The City & Guilds Group in 2019, highlighted the discrepancy in how senior management and employees view psychological safety in the workplace.

Despite 94% of respondents saying that they consider psychological safety to be important, just 10% of businesses are seen to treat it as a priority.

One in five businesses admitted to having no measures in place to support psychological safety and would only take action once an issue arises. The research suggested businesses are taking the “wait and see” approach to employee mental health.

McManus added that HR has a key role to play during the current crisis and beyond, both in terms of shaping the strategy and approach to mental health and partnering with leaders and managers to create and sustain a workplace climate which promotes mental wellness.

She said: “Research carried out by Oxford Group among 1000 workers in global organisations – 500 of whom had key management responsibilities, revealed that while 43% of senior management teams expect HR to deal with the psychological safety of employees at work, the majority of employees (56%) believe the responsibility should fall to line managers and senior management."

She suggested that individually each leader and manager has the opportunity to impact the level of psychological safety their team experiences, and that HR advice and support can make a significant difference to leaders’ and managers’ ability to create good conditions.

“Their advice and coaching is key. At the organisational level, HR partnering with leadership teams is a priority right now, establishing and clearly communicating who in their business is accountable for handling any mental health issues or risks,” she said.