Why good workplace mental health is the key to post-Covid recovery

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By Daryl Woodhouse

Managers may find the Covid-19 crisis has done more than hurt the bottom line at their firms. But there is much that can be done to help

As the Coronavirus crisis took hold and millions either took to working from home or were furloughed, the fear of a deadly virus was accompanied by that of potential job losses. 

There is no doubt the crisis will have pushed Britain and countless other countries into recession. The question for many is: what sort of recovery will there be, and will their first priority be to find a new job after being made redundant?

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Daryl Woodhouse: effective programmes are needed

For employers, it is important to consider the impact all this will have had on the mental health of staff.

Worry about jobs will have been added to fears for personal health and that of relatives, while staff members living alone will have faced a much greater degree of social isolation than those living with families or in shared households.

All this means that, as Britain emerges from lockdown and people get back to work, the capacity of firms to bounce back may be impeded by the damaged mental health of staff. For this reason, addressing mental health should be a priority for employers. While it might seem that the focus needs to be on clearing work backlogs or getting dormant systems up and running, such tasks will be accomplished much more effectively if staff have improved mental health.

By instigating mental health programmes as people come back to work  remotely or in the workplace – employers can immediately help staff by demonstrating that they recognise that these are real issues. This reassurance will be a good start.

At the same time, the programmes need to be effective and build a lot of resilience into the workforce. The path back to anything like normality, either economically, in terms of work practice or in wider social interaction, will be a bumpy one. Problems ahead may include unavoidable redundancies, a second wave of infections, local lockdowns or slow recoveries for some sectors.

Why flexibility is required

For many firms, a saving grace has been the capacity for staff to work from home. While around 12 per cent of people were working from home in 2019, around 40 per cent have managed to do so during the Lockdown. 

There is every reason to think many will continue to do this, either to help manage a gradual wind-down of social distancing, or because they have now become used to it. Many will have found they actually prefer working this way. 

However, such people will still have faced many of the psychological pressures of the pandemic and home working can lead to isolation and difficulty in maintaining routines, which can impact on mental health.

Therefore, it is important that the programme can be delivered online so they can access it too. I have provided this along with a wide range of life hacks that can offer guidance to people to get through the tough period of lockdown and ensure they are as mentally robust as possible to face a difficult time both mentally and economically. 

Delivering a mental health programme at work may seem to some like the last priority for bosses keen to get firms back up and running. The reality is that it could be the most effective thing anyone can do to help ensure their workforce is in the best psychological place to tackle the challenges ahead. It could turn out to be the best investment in resilience your firm has ever made.

Daryl Woodhouse is a mental health and productivity keynote speaker and trainer