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Coronavirus: Mental health warning for business leaders amid stricter measures

Suban Abdulla
·4-min read
Only, 44% of UK board executives said they feel optimistic about the recovery of the economy. Photo: Getty
Only, 44% of UK board executives said they feel optimistic about the recovery of the economy. Photo: Getty

Experts have warned that stricter coronavirus restrictions could spur a second wave of poor mental health among UK business leaders, after a rise in coronavirus cases forced the UK government to reintroduce tighter measures across the country.

During the pandemic, more than three quarters, or 78% of bosses reported they had experienced poor mental health. 32% delayed seeking help and 31% admitted they struggle with talking about it.

According to Bupa’s Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index, pressures on business, worries about the economy, and reduced personal freedom exacerbated the mental health of UK execs, with 40% saying that reduced personal freedom is a big factor.

Limited personal freedom due to the restrictions has lead to high rates of fatigue — 33% in UK, 21% in US, 19% in France — as well as lack of energy and lower motivation — 26% in UK, 24% in US, 22% in France.

Meanwhile, 25% reported anger or impatience, 25% said they had disturbed sleep and 26% of UK business leaders experienced mood swings.

Watch: Is working from home affecting our mental health?

READ MORE: Coronavirus: UK business leaders speak out as depression rates double

Only, 44% of UK board executives said they feel optimistic about the recovery of the economy — this being their biggest worry.

The study shows that UK bosses’ confidence levels in the economy falls behind those in the United Arab Emirates, China, France and Egypt, but is ahead of the United States and Hong Kong.

Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic is another worry, with protecting mental health and wellbeing within their organisations a close third.

Britain ranks the highest in the world, tying with the UAE, when it comes to the importance of mental health of bosses, colleagues and their families — with 31% of UK execs considering it their biggest worry.

How UK business leaders shape up: Key trends among global executives. Chart: BUPA Global
How UK business leaders shape up: Key trends among global executives. Chart: BUPA Global

Meanwhile, one in four or 25% said they have already committed to providing more or better mental health support within their business, ahead of execs in France (23%) and in the US (20%).

In August, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that almost one in five adults likely experienced “some form of depression” in June, up from one in 10 last year. It found 12.9% of adults affected had seen symptoms develop since the start of COVID-19, with stress and anxiety most common.

The figures encouraged several entrepreneurs to highlight their own mental health struggles as they battled to keep their companies afloat and radically overhaul business models during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson unveils new rules to combat coronavirus second wave

Bupa Global Medical Director Dr Luke James, said: “Whatever the outlook, one thing is certain — when the economy is struggling, we’re also more likely to struggle with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. And with the threat of a second lockdown approaching, we may see an exacerbation in mental-ill health too.

“Acknowledging this, taking steps to support your emotional wellbeing and addressing any issues as quickly as possible are the keys to coping with these challenges because when it comes to mental health, early diagnosis and treatment can have a positive impact on prognosis.”

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Bosses in Britain have been the most proactive since the start of the virus, 43% of those surveyed said they will exercise more regularly to help prevent mental ill-health compared to 38% globally, while 38% are aiming to actively lose weight, compared to 30% globally.

When it comes to positive attitudes towards healthcare, 52% said their outlook on private and public healthcare systems has improved during the pandemic. Six in 10 said they would purchase private medical insurance in the next 12 months, including on maintenance of good mental health as well as supporting mental ill-health.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: UK lockdown loneliness strikes women and younger workers most

Bupa surveyed 1,981 high net worth individuals and senior execs, with 450 of those based in the UK, USA, France, UAE and Egypt having more than £1m ($1.3m) in salary and investable assets. Of those 450, 322 are board level executives, with 72 from the UK.

Respondents also include, 1,031 senior executives based in China’s first- and second-tier cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, including business owners, presidents, senior management, directors and heads of business. Meanwhile 500 senior executives, presidents, senior management, directors and business owners were surveyed in Hong Kong.

The index also looks at the shifting trends in work-life balance and business practices, reflecting the way business will be conducted in future. It used the analysis of three international datasets from research conducted between May and July 2020.

Earlier this week, business chiefs warned millions of jobs and many firms’ survival was at stake after prime minister Boris Johnson and the leaders of devolved administrations announced tougher rules.

The Confederation of British Industry’s director-general, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, warned measures including a 10pm curfew for hospitality firms and encouraging home-working would be a “crushing blow” for thousands of companies. She also called for a “successor” for the job protection scheme.