Tim Conroy discusses
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” Victor Hugo’s sanguine line from his literary masterpiece, Les Misérables was first published in 1862. More than 150 years later, in what’s been the most challenging year that the world has collectively faced in living memory, those words feel particularly pertinent.
As a nation, we’ve shown true British grit against the coronavirus pandemic. From clapping together-but apart on our doorsteps in recognition of our NHS heroes, risking their lives. To our children painting the windows of our streets with hopeful rainbows, all the while adapting to their parents assuming the role of their teacher. To standing in endless lines for a pint of milk and some toilet roll.
At what cost?
Those very parents that were wearing their newly appointed educator badge, were often grappling with their own professional struggles. Working from home was no longer a ‘nice to have’ option. It was the only option. Where grandparents and childminders once stepped in to ease the working parent challenges, parents now stood alone. Teacher, worker, homemaker.
Those without children were often faced with isolation and loneliness. Many moved back in with parents, some became their parent’s carer. And for those on the frontline, there was no option to Stay at Home. They continued to face the public in essential areas including shops, hospitals, and schools.
The furlough effect
In addition to those navigating new working environments, there were also many individuals who were put on the government's newly formed Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), more commonly known as furlough.
Recent numbers from HMRC show that from March to November, no less than 9.6million people were furloughed. With a 20% reduction in salary that many households could already ill-afford. Figures from the Guardian state that two thirds of employees that have been placed on the scheme also continue in their role. While this goes against regulations, the fear of losing their job seems too great.
For those that have remained working, many have reported unhappiness following the furlough or redundancy of their peers, increasing workloads a major concern.
Unsurprisingly, the state of the nation’s mental health is now at critical levels. Mental health charity Mind found that more than half of adults (60%) and over two thirds of young people (68%) said their mental health had worsened during the first lockdown. As the country grapples with lockdown 3.0 during the shorter, darker days of winter, those figures look set to soar.
Why we should care
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines good mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’
Supporting a workforce to achieve optimum mental health makes good business sense. But more than that, as an employer who cares, it’s the right thing to do. Good health boosts productivity, increases engagement and significantly reduces the costs related to taking no action, such as sick days and hiring costs.
A study from Mitrefinch analysed Google search data during the period of March to June and found that the term ‘Back to work anxiety’ had increased by 567%. While ‘Fear of returning to work’ had increased by 200%. Recognising and supporting mental health concerns has never been more important.
What does poor mental health look like?
The CIPD suggest that typical signs include:
- Working long hours / not taking breaks
- Increased sickness absence or lateness
- Mood changes
- Distraction, indecision, or confusion
- Irritability, anger, or aggression
- Uncharacteristic performance issues
- Over-reaction to problems or issues
- Disruptive or anti-social behaviour
Displaying one or more of these signs does not automatically mean that the individual is experiencing poor mental health. It does however prompt reason for a conversation surrounding the wellbeing of that person and possibly a referral to Occupational Health or professional coach.
Burn out and the impact of remote working
An alarming 86% of workers said that remote working has had a negative impact on their mental health, specifying increased anxiety and problems sleeping. A study commissioned by LinkedIn and in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation found that workers were pushing themselves to demonstrate their worth to the company, often causing burnout, through fear of losing their job.
The research found that on average, office workers were increasing their workload by an extra 28 hours each month of remote working. Presenteeism has simply metamorphosed into ‘e-presenteeism’. Workers feel obliged to be online, even outside of their working hours, and in many cases when they are feeling unwell.
So, what next?
It’s clear that 2020 has had a severe and detrimental impact to large proportions of the workforce. The LinkedIn/Mental Health Foundation research found that three in five (58%) leaders fear that the mental toll of homeworking will cause them to lose staff through burnout and poor mental health.
The question is, how do we begin to put the pieces of this fractured society together again? How do we build a workplace where people feel safe? Thought leader and HR consultant Josh Bersin has been studying the impact of Coronavirus within the workplace. He believes it is vital for organisations to communicate and reinforce the changes they are making to create a resilient, safe, and sustainable workplace.
You don’t go to the workplace; the workplace comes to you."
It’s a new concept that Josh says will require patience, flexibility, and forgiveness during this period of ambiguity. A shift in focus to healthcare is crucial, and the art of listening has never been more important.
Listen to the podcast as Josh shares his thoughts and findings with Winningtemp on how you can best support and guide your people to good mental health and wellbeing through the pandemic and beyond.