How to support mental health during a pandemic

WM People has published a white paper on mental health during the Covid pandemic, sharing emerging best practice.

mental health working dad


Mental health has been one of the key challenges facing employers over the course of the pandemic – whether employees have been frontline staff in the workplace, remote or furloughed workers.

Many have risen to the challenge and looked to put in place different forms of support to ensure their people can perform to the best of their ability. A recent virtual roundtable held by WM People and attended by 13 leading employers offered a chance to share emerging best practice.

The roundtable, sponsored by McDonald’s, heard how several employers had created wellbeing hubs and many spoke about the importance of listening to employees, for instance, through regular pulse surveys on how people are feeling or employee network feedback, and putting in place employee-led initiatives. The importance of finding creative ways to keep employees engaged and positive was also underlined.
Nikki Remmer, ‎Head of Reputation & Culture at McDonald’s, said Covid had shone a light on mental health for the company, and inspired the business to carefully review what more it could do to support its people. 

Professor Gail Kinman, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, said people have different needs and employers need to listen. People who are consulted and have a voice can co-produce an intervention which is much more likely to succeed. “Employees are experts in their own working environment,” she said.

She added that employers need to take an inclusive approach, looking at different groups, such as older and younger workers, parents, minorities, etc and advised using wellness action plans to identify what the signs that someone is struggling might look like – something that is particularly important when it comes to remote workers.

Professor Kinman also spoke of the impact of long hours on mental health, saying people need some sense of control over their hours. Many people overworked during Covid because there wasn’t much else to do and because they saved on commuting time, she stated. Many people also extended their hours to fit around childcare and homeschooling. People felt they were not trusted working from home which provoked a lot of e-presenteeism.

She said it is important to do a regular psycho-social risk assessment. The Health and Safety Executive has developed a talking toolkit to help employers and teams talk through the issues and identify what they want in a co-producing, multi-level way. Risk assessments need to take account of people’s different needs.

The roundtable also covered mental health first aiders and champions, the role of senior leaders and line managers, particularly in the transition to hybrid working, and the importance of maintaining regular communication with furloughed workers.

*The full white paper and recommendations from the virtual roundtable are available by downloading the paper, free of charge, here.

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