Need for mental wellbeing support 'skyrockets' during pandemic

06 Apr 2021
Two business people sitting together, having a discussion

At least one in six workers experience common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, according to the mental health charity Mind.

How can organisations help individual employees who may be struggling? Employers and managers should be alert to the early signs of stress and mental ill health, and know how to respond and signpost to support services, says HR body the CIPD.

Sometimes, simple changes to a person's working arrangements or responsibilities can be enough. For example, allowing them more rest breaks and working with them each day to help prioritise their workload.

On a company-wide basis, health and wellbeing initiatives can support employees through mental health issues, for example by providing access to counselling services.

And of course, employers with health and wellbeing programmes in place should ensure employees know how to access them.

A recent Gartner survey of more than 5,000 employees illustrates the need for such programmes: more than one in four employees described themselves as depressed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and nearly half (49%) of those whose organisation offers a mental wellbeing programme participated in it in 2020.

"The need for wellbeing support has skyrocketed since the pandemic struck, giving organisations a new mandate to offer more and better programmes," said Carolina Valencia, vice president in the Gartner HR practice. "Organisations, more than ever, must respond to all facets of the individual, from the physical to the emotional, and address some of the new stressors that have emerged over the past year."

To help meet the varying needs of employees, organisations must also ensure there is alignment between the support they offer and the demand from employees, for example by offering more choices.

Research by Gartner shows that less than half of employees (46%) feel that their organisation's wellbeing programmes are personalised.

HR leaders should also give employees tools to navigate challenging moments on their own at the right moment, the research and advisory firm says. One way of doing this is to encourage employees to self-assess their wellbeing, enabling them to easily benchmark themselves and map out a development plan to enhance their wellbeing.

While the Covid-19 pandemic was an anomaly, disruptions are increasingly common and organisations need to establish programmes, processes and guidance in advance of whatever unexpected event comes next, Gartner argues.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear to employers and employees that work and life cannot be treated as two separate constructs," Valencia added. "If employers help support employees with all aspects of their health during turbulent times more effectively, not only do they have better lives, but they perform at a higher level. In fact, organisations that provide holistic wellbeing support can boost employee discretionary effort by 21%, twice as much as companies that provide only traditional (physical and financial) programmes."