The divide between employers who get the need to address mental health at work and those who don’t is widening, but it’s not just enough to spot the symptoms and signpost people to external support. The external support needs to be there and properly funded to deal with the scale of the problem.
Mental health concerns are everywhere at the moment. There is anxiety, uncertainty, grief and exhaustion everywhere. For many working parents, particularly mums, that has been compounded by the impact of having to balance work and childcare/homeschooling.
A worrying Deloitte survey out this week shows the extent of the impact on women’s careers and how lack of sharing that care, for whatever reason, has increased women’s exhaustion. It shows that 71% of women in the UK rated their work-life balance as good or extremely good pre-Covid-19, while today that figure is only 31%. Twenty four per cent are considering leaving the workforce altogether, with increased workload and caregiving responsibilities being the top reasons.
Parents also absorb all the worries of their children. A Sutton Trust report, also out this week, shows worries about children’s emotional and social development during the pandemic are high and nurseries workingmums.co.uk has spoken to talk about the challenges of dealing with this, often exacerbated by growing staff shortages. School children have endured various degrees of uncertainty, particularly those in crucial exam years.
The Deloitte report shows that employer support and understanding of these wider issues as well as work-related ones makes a difference.
Our roundtable on mental health this week was a case in point. Employers shared all the work they have been doing. They shared what has worked and what hasn’t too. This is hugely important because none of us has been through something like this before. We are just feeling our way. It’s vital to be able to trial things and adapt them or ditch them if they don’t work and try something new. That’s how we move forward. For instance, do no-Zoom Fridays work or increase stress as you try to pack everything in to the preceding days? Is it better to have a shorter window of time without meetings, something more regular, that allows for daily or twice weekly moments where people can take a pause from meetings and the email deluge that greets them after they come off? Our connectedness has been a boon both before and during Covid, but it has also increased the intensity of our work.
Many employers spoke of employer mental health first aid or champions, coached to spot the signs of ill health. It’s surely a good thing to know your teams better and to understand the pressures they might be under. It’s also a good thing to be able to listen and to signpost them to where there may be expert support if they need it. The problem comes, however, if the expert support is overwhelmed and unavailable unless you have the resources to go private.
Many people who have tried to access mental health support over the last year, particularly free/subsidised resources or help through their GP, will have found there is a huge waiting list, particularly where children are concerned. Schools are doing their best, but they are facing an uphill battle. It then comes down to parents to keep their kids going until they can get the specialist help they need, often with a knock-on effect on their own mental health. Will greater demand and more overwhelm force action?
It takes a village to raise a child is a phrase you hear often. It will take all of us coming together to address this and it will need proper investment. First, we need to recognise the scale of the problem and then we need to fully understand the cost – for individuals, workplaces, society – of not prioritising this because the longer we leave people without the help they need the more damaging and long-lasting the effects will be.