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  • Writer's pictureKristina Kennedy Coaching

Will there be a mental health pandemic after Covid-19?Recognising mental health issues at work

Recognising mental health issues in the workplace has always been critical, but despite the previous Prime Minister pledging to focus on mental health services, the brilliant Heads Together campaign lead by the Royal Family, or the ever-popular Billions on Sky Atlantic, there still remains some latent form of stigma around our psychological wellbeing – but could this be about to finally change?

Given the affect that COVID 19 is having across the entire population, it feels a pivotal moment now to normalise mental health support not just for individuals but for all employees and businesses that will experience a myriad of psychological issues as employees emerge from lockdown.

It is difficult to overstate the challenges the COVID-19 crisis has placed on people. Across the last 8 weeks, many have experienced monumental change to their daily lives and whilst the dramatic event has brought some new awareness, excitement and creativity, for many it has also brought stress, loss, disconnection, relationship and family fractures, financial pressures, job insecurity, bereavement and a host of psychological triggers.

There is overwhelming evidence to suggest the impact of these effects need to be attended to, before we ask individuals to fully reengage in the corporate future post-pandemic and we know many employers feel they have a duty of care to offer a practical and emotionally congruent pathway for the individuals within their organisations.

Make no mistake, this is the greatest professional disruption of a generation. There is no “returning to work” as we knew it – something has changed irreversibly – and recognising and addressing the practical and emotional impact of that on each and every one of us will shape how healthily our businesses come through this as a whole.

Every employer should be compassionate and understanding that employees will need to readjust when working life returns to normality. Hopefully managers will be empathetic and supportive and show flexibility to ensure employees can make an effective return to the workplace with a mental health support-plan in place.

In this current collective experience, now is a better time than ever to normalise psychotherapy and mental health support. Before coronavirus, mental health was seen as someone else’s problem but now we are all in the same boat, and although we do not know how many will contract coronavirus, we do know that everyone is psychologically affected by what has happened.

Here are just some of the ways businesses and employees are starting to address the new future for our minds:

Many businesses are surveying their teams (with anonymised data results) before they ask them to re-enter the workplace to gauge how they are feeling and what common anxieties are in play. This allows the companies to focus their support and precious resources towards those areas that are causing most distress.

Many businesses are already accepting that the 5-day, 9-5 week is over forever. The stress and expense of commuting has been proven to be an outdated method of working pattern (when so much has now been proven to be deliverable remotely). Many employers and employees are gearing up to renegotiate who and how often teams and individuals need to attend the office and how they will stay effectively connected in new ways.

In-house psychological services such as Psyched In Residence are being taken up by business who want to proactively provide qualified, accredited and experienced psychotherapists for their teams (rather than well-meaning listeners), without them needing to specifically ask for it. Normalising and humanising the need to talk over the trauma of how COVID-19 has affected them. The on-site practitioners in the actual and virtual corridors of companies are ready to offer professional and emotional therapeutic guidance to employees and teams, exactly when they most need it – and for the first time and at a time when they may be finally comfortable to receive it.

Essential care is now being taken by many businesses to ensure they are respectful and understanding of the fears and concerns around health and safety that Covid-19 has thrown upon us and ensuring the appropriate spacing, hygiene and overall safety measures have been taken to keep returning employees safe and honoured. Transportation remains a current concern – so rota’s and widened hours are being widely introduced to allow for many to work outside the core hours.

The pandemic has taught us to view people in a more human and holistic way. A post pandemic workplace will need a full employee experience strategy, integrating behavioural and physical health along with other skills and talent management areas. This is a great opportunity for a corporate culture shift bringing wellbeing and mental health in as part of the package for the “new normal”.

Psychological safety has been proven to be the magic that makes teams and businesses perform better, so whilst this pandemic has caused untold damage to health and the economy, employees and teams can excel and bring greater creativity and productivity to workplaces if they utilise this change of perspective and focus this wretched virus has forced upon us, to acknowledge the needs of people in a healthier way. Allowing employees to bring their “whole selves” to work invites them to make their own decisions out of a willingness for self-growth; and the more authentic and inclusive a workplace culture is, the more likely employees will want to be part of it. The freedom for employees to bring and show their “whole selves” will help them and teams get to know each other better, bring workforces closer together, and positively improve overall communication and collaboration as we discover the new world, post COVID-19 together.

Kristina Kennedy UKCP Psychotherapist and ICF Coach



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