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A year like no other: mental health at work in 2020

By Simon Winfield, Managing Director, Hays UK & Ireland

This year’s World Mental Health Day feels different.

For most business leaders, supporting positive mental health practices – both personally and amongst our employees – is a priority every year. But, this year has taken its importance to a whole new level. Mental health has fallen under the spotlight with increasing regularity throughout the course of this year, and with good reason. The impact of so much uncertainty, upheaval and change is clear, and with work-life boundaries more blurred than ever before leaders have had to take note.

The pandemic factor

Anxiety around what the future holds is common for most. Lockdowns and social distancing may also have left many feeling isolated and alone – it can be harder to recognise when someone is struggling when you aren’t meeting face-to-face, and similarly it can be even harder to reach out and ask for help when you feel more alone than ever.

Furthermore, as many office workers shifted rapidly to remote working, concerns around work-life balance are on the rise as the lines between our professional and our personal lives seemingly disappear. Our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion 2020 report, based on a survey of over 800 professionals, revealed that 49% of respondents said that blurring the boundaries between work-life balance was a drawback to working flexibly, and nearly a quarter (24%) identified potential burnout as an issue.

And as it increasingly looks as though this crisis will disproportionately impact the careers of younger generations, it remains to be seen what the longer-term mental health impacts of 2020 will be.

It is no surprise then that in our recent Quarterly Insights Report, over half (58%) of professionals said that mental health had become more important to them since lockdown. Sadly, only just over half (52%) ranked their own personal wellbeing as ‘positive’.

Concerns over career progression

The prevalence of mental health conditions not only has an impact on people’s personal lives, but on their professional lives too. Our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion 2020 report highlighted concerns from those with experience of a mental health condition about equal access to career progression. Of those who have experienced a mental health condition, 17% feel this has limited their career progression opportunities.

Similarly, 17% of those who have had or experienced a mental health condition said they felt this had led to their chances of being selected for a job being lowered.

So, what should we do?

With the many negative consequences and side-effects that come with suffering from mental health conditions, there is both a moral obligation and a business imperative to try to mitigate their impact wherever possible. The wellbeing of staff needs to be a key priority for all organisations, especially as we continue to navigate the challenges that Covid-19 continues to bring.

Business leaders can take action by talking more openly about mental health, ensuring resources are available and ensuring that managers have access to training to better spot signs of mental ill health. Managers need to be well versed in how to spot the signs of poor mental health virtually – with less face-to-face contact managers need to understand what to look out for and make sure they are still having regular one-to-ones so their teams are able to reach out for help when they need it. Then, they need to be aware of what practical steps they can take to provide more support.

If the past year has shown us one thing, it is that our health and wellbeing should always be our priority. As leaders we all have a duty to ensure that’s the case, ensure that mental health becomes part of our everyday conversations and that as leaders we are setting the right examples and encouraging our teams to do the same.

To discover more insights about mental health in the workplaces, request your copy of the Hays Equality, Diversity & Inclusion 2020 Report.

About this author

Simon joined Hays in 2006, having commenced his recruitment career in 1993. Initially responsible for our businesses in Western Australia and Northern Territory, Simon relocated to the UK in 2014 where he was responsible for our operations in the West & Wales and Ireland, before being appointed Managing Director of the UK & Ireland business in 2018.

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