Is mental health any better post pandemic?

Dennis Thom investigates how organisations are managing their people’s wellbeing since the end of the restrictions caused by COVID-19

For some of us the pandemic made us prioritise and improve our health, whilst others suffered, and in many cases continue to suffer, from burnout, anxiety and stress, not to mention long Covid. So, did we learn anything about prioritising our health at work from the pandemic, or are we simply going back to the way things were?  For many, we are at a crossroads.

In April 2021 McKinsey stated that at least 49% of respondents to a survey said they feel somewhat burned out. In contrast, according to the Office for National Statistics ( in February 2022, 78% of those who worked from home in some capacity said that being able to work from home gave them an improved work-life balance and 47% also reported improved wellbeing.  The pandemic taught some to prioritise work/life balance, outdoor pursuits and the importance of community and purpose. Others felt isolated, over-worked, disgruntled and their health suffered. 

Mental Health issues continue to grow

Stress has been one of the top work-related factors to affect the mental (and physical) health of adults for decades whether that be as a result of problems with demands, change, relationships, working conditions, power and support. In October 2017 The Stevenson/Farmer review, Thriving at Work, highlighted an estimated 300,000 people lost their jobs each year due to mental health problems. That was pre-pandemic, the situation is now much tougher. Work-related mental ill-health was costing UK businesses up to £45 billion in 2019, but those numbers are now £56 billion a year according to Deloitte UK, an increase of around 25%. 

One of the issues facing employers today is they need to address a spectrum of mental wellbeing needs

In addition to the cost to the individuals, employee poor mental health is a huge expense to organisations because of staff turnover and loss of talent, absenteeism and the negative impact on productivity. One of the issues facing employers today is they need to address a spectrum of mental wellbeing needs because different people are affected by poor mental health in a variety of ways.

Progress in tackling workplace mental health issues
There has been some success over the last ten years in opening up dialogue and breaking down the stigma around mental health, with some employers increasingly addressing trauma, anxiety and stress at work, but there is still a huge way to go. Wellbeing has never been so important to our lives and livelihoods. We need to learn the lessons about wellbeing that the pandemic taught us and not just try to go back to the way things were. Going backwards is a losing battle which won’t succeed as workers have different and often greater expectations than they had pre-pandemic which will cause pushback.

Improve wellbeing and good mental health
Look for the signs
Leaders and managers need to be looking for the signs of burnout, long-term anxiety, pressures, trauma and grief. Responsibility and relationships are at the heart of caring for colleagues. Leaders need to show real empathy and deal with employee uncertainty and health issues with compassion. Start conversations with employees and see how best you can meet their needs. Ensure your work culture does not support long-term working out of hours, holidays not being taken and poor work/life balance, 

Promote and train for wellbeing at work
Having a focus on employee wellbeing means openly communicating about good food choices, social connections, exercise, being in nature and lifelong learning. This requires specific training but taking these positive steps doesn’t just improve mental health and wellbeing, it also increases performance and cognitive function and helps to futureproof the brain.

Build internal and external community relations
Define your values, optimise learning from one another, foster connections, organise training and full team events which everyone can attend. Encourage full participation, inclusion, and respect, and build mutual understanding, especially across any interpersonal and cultural divides. 

Don’t suppress trauma in organisations
A positive mindset can help but doesn’t solve all problems. Trauma, anxiety and fear cannot be left unaddressed. An empathetic corporate leadership will put its people first, rather than see looking after them as a distraction. Offer regular training across all the hierarchy on a variety of wellbeing subjects, ensuring there is something of interest to everyone.

Empower for resilience
Empowering your team often helps them build resilience. Allow people to play to their strengths. Have role models, mentors, collaborations, partnerships and a plan that can be continually adapted because resilience is built on life experiences and the world is constantly changing.  

Ensure financial security
Leaders must do what they can to ensure a fair, equal wage. The cost of living crisis means many workers are grappling with rising costs and struggling to make ends meet. 

Create psychological safety
This gives individuals permission to talk about what is on their minds because they feel safe and thath means they are more likely to bring their entire self to work. Safety leads to inclusion, diversity and greater levels of wellbeing.

Offer individual-based flexibility
Leaders need to think about the needs of the individual before they lose valuable talent. It is important to remember it is the individual suffering first and foremost and that is where attention should be focused in the first place.

Thom Dennis is CEO at Serenity in Leadership 

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