Two-thirds of UK employers say supporting staff mental health and wellbeing is one of their main challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey has found.
More employers (67%) felt that supporting their workers’ mental health was a key challenge than deciding on the best way to respond to the crisis as a business (49%), despite the uncertainty many businesses now find themselves in, according to the research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and People Management magazine.
Making sure that staff working remotely are staying well both physically and mentally was the biggest challenge for 70% of employers, in the survey of 301 HR professionals taken in late March.
The CIPD said the findings “bring home the heavy toll that this crisis is putting people under.”
Staff not being able to work from home was another concern highlighted by 47% of employers as well as employees being unable to work because of school closures, which was an issue for 34%.
For employers whose staff were working from home, school closures were also an issue as 65% said staff balancing work and parenting commitments was a key challenge.
Businesses were responding to school and nursery closures in a range of ways — 52% of parents were making up their full contracted hours at home but at different times to normal, 41% of employers asked parents to continue working their normal hours from home, and 27% of parents are using their annual leave to look after their children.
Some 24% of workers have had to take unpaid leave to care for their children.
Home-working is throwing up other challenges for employers — keeping staff engaged and motivated (64%) and ensuring staff are communicating effectively with each other (57%) were issues for the majority of employers.
The survey also found that a lack of clear information from the government was a key challenge for 36% of employers.
The CIPD said it is encouraging employers to have constant communication with their workforce and take early action to offer support such as counselling and ensure managers are trained and confident to support workers’ continued wellbeing, for both those in the workplace and those working from home.
Rachel Suff, wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, said: “On one hand, these finding are welcome as it shows that the vast majority of employers do care about their staff and recognise they have a responsibility to look out for them.
“On the other, it does bring home the heavy toll that this crisis is putting people under, and some employers and line managers may well be feeling out of their depth in how to best support them.
“There are simple steps employers can take at this time to support their staff’s mental well-being, such as reminding managers about the importance of communicating regularly with their teams, asking how they’re doing, and signposting to advice on good self-care like healthy diet, sleep and relaxation habits.”