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Article | Managing Risk

The echo pandemic

Why and how employers can address the mental health crisis

April 28, 2022

An ongoing mental health crisis among UK workers demands proactive and meaningful action to protect employees, and businesses.
Risk and Analytics|Risk Management Consulting|Benessere integrato
Risque de pandémie

One of Oxford Languages’ 2020 words of the year was 'doomscrolling,' the activity of spending a lot of time looking at your phone or computer and reading bad or negative news stories. In fact, research by Uswitch shows on average we’re spending around seven hours a day on social media and the internet in the UK1. That’s up to 97 days absorbing potentially traumatic content that could prove harmful to our mental health.

2021’s top ten news searches focused on the COVID-19 vaccine, tragic murders, unrest and several areas in conflict2 with the British Psychological Society warning ‘the escalating cost of living crisis will have long-lasting impacts on mental health’3. It seems news and social media are having a negative effect on our mental health and consequently our ability to live and work as well as we might ordinarily do so.

The NHS has already forecast an extra 230,000 post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) referrals in England as a result of the pandemic alone4 and Dr Adrian James, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has warned the long-term consequences of the pandemic pose ‘probably the biggest hit to mental health since the second world war’5.

What does the mental health crisis mean for employers?

The UK’s workforce is facing unparalleled challenges to their physical, emotional, financial and social wellbeing. Employees may be struggling to concentrate and focus due to distress about the climate crisis6, they may be absent due to stress, anxiety or depressed as a result of secondary trauma, or they may simply not feel creative or motivated due to worries about the future, all while still trying to navigate new ways of working.

Increasingly, external stressors are growing and may be having a negative impact on employees’ abilities to cope and to perform to the best of their ability.

What can employers do to protect their employees’ mental health?

Employers need to act now to support employees emotionally and practically.

Depending on your business’ needs, some steps we might recommend include:

  • Giving line managers time to consciously connect with their teams, to find out how they are, provide reassurance and encourage them to access support
  • Having Mental Health First Aiders or Champions within the business trained to know how to recognise signs and symptoms of poor mental health and who are able to have empathic conversations with colleagues and support them in accessing the appropriate help
  • Offering workplace support including Employee Assistance Programmes and access to counselling, therapies and trusted information and advice
  • Training and awareness programmes to highlight the importance of developing coping strategies, resilience and self-care
  • Educating employees about doomscrolling
  • Promoting practical suggestions and giving employees the time to engage with them, such as volunteering initiatives, participating in fundraising activities or time during the work week to access guidance, such as debt support or therapy.
The risk of doing nothing

The so-called ‘Great Resignation’ (where high numbers of employees change employers or actively plan to do so), has seen an increased demand for employers to support employee mental health. Recent research shows the cost of labour turnover for mental health related reasons has increased dramatically, from £8.6 billion in 2019 to £22.4 billion in 2021, a jump of more than 150%7.

Employers must also consider their legal obligations under the Equality Act to treat employees experiencing disability because of mental ill health equally through providing reasonable adjustments8.

How can WTW help?

WTW supports businesses in creating psychologically healthy and safe workplaces. Our health and wellbeing specialists can deliver a range of training solutions and provide advice on wellbeing strategy and compliance issues.











Stress and Mental Health Risk Specialist
Health and Wellbeing

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