Creating a Mentally Safe Work Environment Post COVID

There are assessments, protocols and tools to stay physically safe at work, but what about staying mentally safe at work?

Billions are pumped into Health and Safety in the workplace with very little going toward mental health. We can see a broken leg or a cut but just because we don’t see a mental illness it doesn’t mean protocols shouldn’t be in place.

Thankfully mental health isn’t the taboo it used to be and promising new guidelines provided by the government on mental health and well-being support advice for employees returning to the workplace post-COVID-19 are a good sign.

Are we slowly but surely moving closer to creating a mentally safe work environment?

An Emerging Mental Health Crisis

It is long known that work-related stress is one of the leading causes of stress-related illnesses and chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, digestive issues and more. As a result of the pandemic, we have been forced into a global remote working experiment. This is not remote working in its truest sense.

It’s crisis management at home while working and parenting and everything else. Increasing demands on financial well-being, workload, parenting and caring combined with decreasing access to regular social support have strained relationships, altered roles and changed the way we live. All of which has contributed to increased mental health challenges.

In a recent study 73% of working professionals reported being burned out in April, compared to 61% in February.

The main reasons being:

  • No separation between work and life
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Job insecurity

In an article published online in JAMA Internal Medicine on the mental health consequences of COVID-19, the authors warn of a pandemic of behavioural problems and mental health issues.

Another Workforce Burnout Survey  conducted by Eagle Hill found that 50% feel less connected to colleagues, 36% feel less positive about their careers, and 45% feel less productive overall.

36% of organisations are not doing anything to help their employees with burnout and many feel they don’t even have the time to participate in any wellness initiatives that are provided.

Employees mental health during COVID

Working from home used to be a policy that represented flexibility. Laws supporting the “Right to Disconnect” have been adopted in some countries to enhance well-being but now, being forced to work from home with little work-life separation is driving increased stress and mental health problems.

Since the pandemic anxiety, depression, isolation and loneliness have all been reported at an all-time high. Parents have found it particularly straining to work, parent and home-school.

As the world continues to live through uncertainty resilience is now vital. Healthy minds and bodies, strong relationships and supports will all help employers and employees to cope and remain hopeful.

However, it is difficult to maintain these necessities when working remotely and social distancing. While many organisations have lead campaigns to stay connected, and in many cases with success, for many the trouble remains with managing work and family life.

The crisis has forced organisations not only into remote working but new leadership styles, expectations and ways of doing business. Without this change, organisations will continue to intensify the work-related stress problem.

A Broad Perspective to Mental Health Supports Needed

To move forward, there is a real need to assess the pressures and stressors of employees during and after the pandemic. A multi-dimensional approach is necessary across the 8 Dimensions of Wellness.

For employers to make sure that their organisation is mentally safe for employees there is a real need to understand the areas that are contributing to stress in the workplace. A stress risk assessment evaluates areas that are contributing to increased stress in the workplace.

This approach ensures a targeted, deliberate and holistic approach. If employers simply focus on physical and emotional wellness they may miss out on vital other areas.

In our assessment, contributors to work-related stress include conflict on the team (Intellectual Wellness), lack of opportunities (Occupational Wellness), personal finances (Financial Wellness) and isolation (Social Wellness).

When organisations are considering helping employees stay mentally safe at work they cannot do this without assessing and addressing the contributing factors to work-related stress within their organisation.

Employee Assistance Programmes, meditation apps and steps challenges are great for mental health, but they may not mitigate the mental health safety risk if organisations are still contributing to the cause of stress in the first place.

Organisations need to step back and ask themselves are they also contributing to the problem and put supports in place to create a solid foundation for wellness.

With this, we can continue to build resilience to overcome challenges caused by the disease now and into the future.

If you are interested in learning more about Re-Imagining Wellness in a Post COVID World click here to download more.