With the inevitable surge in mental health issues expected after COVID-19, how prepared is your organisation?

When we leave isolation, return to work and begin the new normal post COVID-19 the collective mental health of the UK’s workforce will be unsettled at best.  The impacts of sustained periods of isolation, extreme levels of anxiety and stress coupled   with significant changes to our lives, whether that be loss of loved ones, job losses or financial loss will mean organisations that   wish to survive and thrive in this post COVID-19 environment will need to adapt to the new needs of their workforce.

Proactive Vs Reactive

With current estimated figures of at least 1 in 4 presenting a mental health problem expected to rise significantly in the coming months, will employee assistance programs be suitable or adequate to cope with the ever-changing circumstances.  These programs tend to operate at crisis or struggling stages, when an employee is no longer able or experiencing extreme difficulty in functioning normally, a purely reactive measure that is heavily reliant on the employee to be able to identify the key signs of the issue within themselves.  However, if the organisation does not provide the education required to arm the employee with the required skills to identify the signs of mental health issues, then what do we really expect.

An independent study by the House of Lords found that investment in proactive mental health workplace solutions was actually beneficial for business, by reducing costs and absenteeism while increasing productivity and morale.  In fact, it was estimated to create savings of around 30%, in the post COVID-19 work climate these savings could increase massively.  Essentially the adage rings true prevention is better than a cure, if we tackle mental health issues at work in the coping stage, we will have a far greater success rate.


The Health & Safety Executive reported that stress, depression or anxiety are accounted for most days lost due to work-related ill health at 12.8 million in 2018/19.  On average, each person suffering took around 15.1 days off work.  While theses statistics are extremely high, how accurate are they, after all how many people do not report genuine mental health issues as the reason for absenteeism.  Our work with Bath University Health Psychology actually estimates that 30-40% of all absenteeism can be linked to work related mental health issues, so when assessing your companies absentee data consider taking a second look using the 30% as a marker to get a more accurate picture of root cause for the sickness rate.  The barriers to honest data, include stigma, a lack of knowledge and understanding, perception blindness, call out culture and corporate cognitive dissonance.

The Employee Wellbeing 2018 research study found that of all employees (questioned) 95% when calling in sick with stress would give a different reason, and 58% would trust strangers before their line management when declaring stress issues.  These are only set to worsen as we return to the post COVID-19 workplace unless organisations take proactive measures.

It’s very clear from the statement by Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, that we must now move towards preventative measures “The HSE needs to do much more in looking at how organisations either prevent emotional hazards or recognise their causes early so mitigations can be put in place,” he noted “This is so much trickier to achieve when anyone’s mental health is a pendulum on a sliding scale from healthy, to coping, to struggling and then ill health.  Being preventative means we must find applications at the coping stage, not wait to the struggling stage, when existing popular controls kick in.

“More than this, we need to look for emotional mitigations, rational and more typical controls such as policy, procedure and process are not necessarily the most effective. The HSE needs to start to analyse and enforce on organisations if they have inadequate preventative measures in place. After all, mental harm from emotional hazard does fall under the HSWA.”

Talk to the team at OSI about creating a bespoke mental health workplace solution that can create a thriving, productive and healthy post COVID-19 environment