Leading organisations and experts, including mental health charity Mind, are warning of a mental health emergency both during the current pandemic and beyond. Evidence already shows mental health problems are on the rise, with almost one in five UK adults (19.2%) reportedly likely to have been experiencing some form of depression in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around 1 in 10 (9.7%) before the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having an unequal impact on nations and communities across the globe, and this extends to how the virus is experienced at an individual level.

We already know that people with certain personal characteristics (e.g. older ages, male sex and ethnic minority backgrounds) face a disproportionate impact from the virus. Other factors, such as the job and sector someone works in, or whether someone has caring responsibilities can also influence how people’s lives are affected.

This also includes the impact COVID-19 can have on an individual’s wider health and wellbeing. According to a CIPD survey (August 2020), a third (34%) of employees reported their physical health had worsened during the pandemic, while an even greater proportion (43%) said their mental health had got worse.

People managers are the key link

People managers play a fundamental role in supporting people’s wellbeing. In addition to managing absence, they implement all of the policies – such as flexible working – that can make a real difference to the quality of people’s lives at work. Managers will often be the first port of call if an employee is struggling or needs a workplace adjustment to support their health. Crucially, they should be checking in regularly on people’s wellbeing to spot any early warning signs of poor mental health and signpost to expert sources of help when needed.

However, a recent CIPD survey of employees found that a third (33%) said their line manager or employer had not checked in on their health and wellbeing since the onset of the pandemic. And so it’s not surprising that more than four in ten (43%) said they felt anxious about returning to a workplace because of COVID-19.

Managers are under considerable pressure in the current climate, and they will also be experiencing many of the same pressures and concerns as those they manage. The impact COVID-19 is having means they will be managing a potentially complex mix of personal situations in their teams. They need to ensure people are treated as individuals and take into account both their personal and work-related issues.

To rise to this challenge, organisations need to support and develop their managers. This should include access to any health and wellbeing services on offer, but also professional guidance, training and tools to give them the competence and confidence needed to be a good people manager. This approach will lay the groundwork for them to build inclusive teams that support good mental wellbeing.

Sign the Mental Health at Work Commitment

The CIPD has signed the Mental Health at Work Commitment, and is calling for all employers to follow suit. It provides a framework to help organisations effectively support better mental health outcomes for employees, and provides practical tools to help implement each of the six standards. Signing the commitment sends a strong message to employees as well as the wider community that mental health is a priority for the organisation.

Many employers have already taken steps to reduce stigma around mental health and improve the support they provide to people. Given the continuing uncertainty, this support needs to evolve if it’s to help people meet the changing demands on them. The CIPD will continue to update its tools and resources to support employers and people professionals.

Find out more with these CIPD resources:

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About the CIPD

At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.