When I was conducting research for my first book in 2017, I started to realise the growing importance employee wellbeing played to the employee experience. From what prevents employees turning up to work to what is keeping them awake at night, the wellbeing of our staff has never had such an impact on the workplace.
Promoting and supporting employees at work is at the heart of the CIPD’s charter to champion better work and working lives. It also forms part of the Government’s Labour Market Reform strategy as it sees employee wellbeing as a legitimate target of policy in its own right. This shift in attitudes means that it is critical employers realise the importance of not only preventing poor wellbeing but the role the workplace can play in promoting good wellbeing. It’s for these reasons that ACAS has labelled workplace wellbeing as one of the key components of the future of work.
By 2018, my book had been published and became a bestseller and I was asked by Benefex’s CEO to move into the position of Director, Employee Wellbeing. I was now firmly investing my career wellbeing and the employee experience. But very quickly, I became aware of the huge task that lied ahead of employers and just how much support and awareness was still needed – especially when it came to employee mental health. While society has done a pretty good job of removing the stigma and encouraging people to open up more about their mental health, the mental health industry has been dominated by individuals telling their stories and not enough saying how employers can make a difference.
When I moved into the role of Chair of Wellbeing at Engage For Success, one of my first tasks was to do what we could as a group of experts to warn employers of what we expected to happen over the next 5 years and give them practical ways in which they could better support their people through recovery as we began to see the end of the pandemic. So, to mark the 10-year anniversary of Engage For Success, the Wellbeing Thought Action Group create a special report on employee mental health and Covid19 recovery.
Globally in 2020 our mental health was challenged like never before. Even before the pandemic, the global economy lost more than US$ 1 trillion each year due to depression and anxiety. Around the world, mental health conditions contribute to 25% of years lived with disability. Depression is now a leading cause of disability, affecting more than 264 million people. The extraordinary increase in mental health we saw this year put huge pressure on already underfunded and stretched mental health services in almost every major economy.
One of the primary reasons experts were so quick to warn of the impact of lockdowns and isolation on our mental health was that previous pandemics had given us the evidence of what might happen. The global outbreak of SARS in 2003 was linked to an increase of 30% in suicides for those over the age of 65. The psychological impact of quarantine and isolation caused symptoms like post-traumatic stress, depression and loneliness.
Historically we know that the mental health impact of things like disasters take longer to recover from than the disaster itself. Twenty-five years after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, researchers found that levels of post-traumatic stress and depression were significantly higher. When we think about Coronavirus and the impact it has had on employees, we must understand that it is wide scale trauma that we have all been through and it will affect some employees in much the same way as devastating accidents and natural disasters.
I’ve spent the last year helping large global businesses with their approaches to workplace wellbeing and it is clear that one of the biggest challenges is creating a wellbeing strategy that will support a business in the short and long term. To support employers in creating effective wellbeing strategies as we enter this period of recovery, I have asked the Engage For Success Wellbeing TAG experts to share their advice for employers in 2021.
I hope the report is useful and I hope it becomes the impetus to make the changes needed in your organisation to better support the mental health of your people.
Author: Gethin Nadin, Psychologist, HR Author and Chair EFS Wellbeing TAG