Red heart in light bulb on pink background, representing mental health and wellbeing.
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How can you prioritise your employees’ mental health right now?

29 Jun 2020

OneDigital’s Shira Wilensky shares her advice for looking after the wellbeing of employees, now and in the future.

Mental health should always be something we look after in our working and personal lives, but this has perhaps never been more true than in the past few months.

When it comes to employees, companies have a responsibility to prioritise their health and wellbeing. This is true whether we’re in the middle of a global pandemic or not. But if Covid-19 and the shift to remote working has recently made your management team stop and think about staff mental health, it’s not too late to start acting on it.

To learn more, I spoke to Shira Wilensky, national practice leader of health and wellbeing at workplace consultancy firm OneDigital. Drawing on 13 years of experience, she develops organisational strategies for managing healthcare costs and promoting wellbeing and engagement.

‘The Covid-19 pandemic has made it more universally acceptable to discuss mental health’

Shira Wilensky of OneDigital is smiling into the camera against a pale background.

Shira Wilensky. Image: OneDigital

What kind of impact is working from home due to Covid-19 having on employee mental health?

Employee wellbeing has been impacted across the spectrum. Employee mental health is suffering due to fear and anxiety around physical and financial health factors, as well as the disruption of social and community networks due to social distancing requirements.

This will have immediate impact in the present day, as well as down the road. A recent study from Total Brain reported that 35pc of US employees said that their anxiety over the Covid-19 pandemic has interfered with their workplace productivity.

Looking ahead, this pandemic could be responsible for as many as 75,000 additional deaths [in the US] from drug or alcohol misuse and suicide.

How can employers make themselves aware of struggles employees might be having?

Surveying employees is a great place to begin to understand employee struggles. Asking questions to find out what resources would be most beneficial to help employees cope with the impact of Covid-19 can help employers focus on specific ways to help their workforce.

Employers should also have a pulse on what external factors might be impacting employee productivity.

Understanding what percentages of a given workforce are providing childcare and home-schooling their children, caring for sick dependents or who may be experiencing financial issues from a partner’s employment status are all factors that may influence their productivity in the workplace.

What steps can they take to make things easier for staff?

During these times, employees appreciate constant and authentic communication. Employers should be transparent on the state of the business and focus on the present moment, rather than speculate for the future.

As an added perk, employers could consider offering benefits to support mental health, financial counselling and digital support programmes, from chronic condition management to streaming fitness classes and telemedicine.

There is a plethora of free resources available for small businesses who may not have the liquidity to invest in additional benefits.

Will this dynamic change the course of wellness programmes, even long after Covid-19 has passed?

While the initial emphasis has been focused on keeping employees safe and healthy and containing the virus and its physical threat, I believe that once the pandemic has subsided, the psychological effects will emerge and persist for months to come.

Overall, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more universally acceptable to discuss mental health and ask for help, highlighting the opportunity employers have to support the mental health and wellbeing of employees.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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