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Stepping up mental health support during Covid-19

Stepping up mental health support during Covid-19

By Kate Potts - 21 April 2020

An employers’ duty to protect employees’ health and safety includes both physical and mental health. Fear of becoming unwell, feeling isolated, lack of job security or worries about income loss are some of the factors increasing the pressure and stress people are currently under. CIPD have recommended that employers need to step up their mental health support during the crisis, particularly in view of their recent Health and Wellbeing Survey at Work 2020 report which showed that only 31% of managers are thought to have the confidence to have sensitive discussions around mental health and to signpost staff to expert sources of help.

Some steps employers could consider taking to combat mental health issues include the following:

  • Ensure staff are aware of what support is currently available, including regularly signposting any employee assistance or other schemes in place.
  • If practical, schedule regular 1-2-1 video check-ins with staff to see how they are doing. This could be run by a line manager or member of HR.
  • If you have any trained mental health first aiders, consider whether they can help. Be inventive; you could ask these first aiders to help by circulating their contact details and/or operating a daily drop-in hour for either phone or video calls.
  • Investigate whether any private healthcare scheme in place can be set up to enable employees to access psychological support virtually. Many providers are offering virtual GP appointments (which are sometimes required to obtain referrals in order to access therapy) as well as offering virtual therapy sessions so that support can begin/continue during the crisis.
  • It is easy to spend all day at the desk without really getting up, breathing any fresh air, or having a conversation with someone. This, coupled with the reduced delineation between home and the office, can take a real toll on mental health. Employers should encourage staff to take regular breaks, perhaps beyond their usual contractual allowance. Extended breaks may improve staff mental health and make staff more productive around their rest breaks.
  • Think about whether members of the team (particularly senior individuals) would be prepared to share accounts of how they are finding the lockdown, with a particular focus on challenges people are facing and what they are doing to overcome them. This may help people open-up about their own challenges and mental health.
  • There are various mental health and mindfulness focused apps available including Headspace, Calm, and 10% Happier. These are just a few of the apps available which provide guided meditation, breathing exercises, guidance for anxiety, stress, and other mental health symptoms and more. Most of these apps have a free trial but require a subscription thereafter. App providers usually offer a group discount for employers, so forward-thinking businesses who are financially able in the current circumstances may want to think about offering app subscription to staff.
  • Encourage teams to get involved with virtual games such as through the keyhole ‘guess the house’ quizzes (a favourite of the nosey GQ|Littler team), group BYO lunches, team Yoga sessions, and happy hour drinks (all virtual, of course). 
  • Promote the use of video for work interactions, considering whether you have the right systems and technology in place to enable this.
  • It can be all too easy to respond to a non-urgent email at 10pm which could easily have waited until the next morning. Consider asking managers to talk to employees about their routines, encouraging them to establish a working pattern and make sure that they have time and space to switch off from the office.
  • Finally, employers may want to think about encouraging staff to take holidays. Not only might this be necessary to ensure that your workforce don’t store up a whole year’s entitlement to squeeze into the end of the year, but also because having a proper break can be great for mental health, even when employees have to stay at home. One of the GQ|Littler team recently wrote a blogpost in our Covid Diaries, waxing lyrical about the benefits of a day's holiday during lockdown.

So, there you have it, a few of our ideas on how you can support employees during this tricky time. We would love to hear your thoughts and any novel strategies or ideas that your organisation is considering, so please do get in touch with Kate Potts or your usual GQ|Littler contact if you are willing to share.