WM People launches white paper on mental health at work during Covid

WM People has launched a white paper based on its recent virtual roundtable with leading employers about how they have managed the mental wellbeing of employees during the pandemic.

silhouette of a person with grey paper scrunched up around to depict depression


Finding creative ways to keep employees engaged and positive has provided a vital boost to people’s mental health during Covid, a recent WM People employer roundtable heard.

At the virtual roundtable attended by 13 leading employers, sponsored by McDonald’s, employers spoke of the different measures they had put in place to protect employee wellbeing. Several had created wellbeing hubs and many spoke about the importance of listening to employees, for instance, through regular pulse surveys on how people are feeling or employee network feedback, and putting in place employee-led initiatives.

Nikki Remmer, ‎Head of Reputation & Culture at McDonald’s, said Covid had shone a light on mental health for the company, and inspired the business to carefully review what more it could do to support its people.

Professor Gail Kinman, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, said people have different needs and employers need to listen. People who are consulted and have a voice can co-produce an intervention which is much more likely to succeed. “Employees are experts in their own working environment,” she said.

She added that employers need to take an inclusive approach, looking at different groups, such as older and younger workers, parents, minorities, etc and advised using wellness action plans to identify what the signs that someone is struggling might look like – something that is particularly important when it comes to remote workers.

Professor Kinman also spoke of the impact of long hours on mental health, saying people need some sense of control over their hours. Many people overworked during Covid because there wasn’t much else to do and because they saved on commuting time, she stated. Many people also extended their hours to fit around childcare and homeschooling. People felt they were not trusted working from home which provoked a lot of e-presenteeism.

She said it is important to do a regular psycho-social risk assessment. The Health and Safety Executive has developed a talking toolkit to help employers and teams talk through the issues and identify what they want in a co-producing, multi-level way. Risk assessments need to take account of people’s different needs.

The roundtable also covered mental health first aiders and champions, the role of senior leaders and line managers, particularly in the transition to hybrid working, and the importance of maintaining regular communication with furloughed workers.

Some recommendations include:

  • Listen to employees and respond so initiatives are employee-led

  • Use different forms of communications such as videos and story telling

  • Ensure there is regular line manager training, especially around the transition back to work

  • Don’t be afraid to trial what works to give people break such as extra days off or no meeting afternoons

  • Make mental health first aiders human through publishing their stories

  • Ensure mental health first aiders are diverse so everyone can relate to them

  • Track stress-related sickness absence and encourage people to take time off when the first signs of burnout show to avoid longer periods off

  • Encourage senior leaders to be open to reduce stigma

  • Encourage furloughed and non-furloughed employees to understand each other’s experiences during Covid

*The full white paper and recommendations from the virtual roundtable, including the discussion of what employers are doing and ideas on best practice, are available by downloading the paper, free of charge, here.

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