With the UK Government's furlough scheme slated to conclude next month and more workers potentially returning to the office in due course, particularly as schools resume, now represents a good time to take stock of the mental health landscape as it affects both employers and employees.
A survey of 3,500 participants by the Office for National Statistics revealed nearly one in five people experienced depression during a ten-day period in June 2020, compared to half that figure in the nine months to March 2020.
This year has generated an endless number of clichés, but I would suggest one of the more apt ways of describing the widespread and varied impact of Covid-19 on our collective wellbeing is the concept that "we are in the same storm but occupying different boats".
Everyone has been affected by the pandemic in some way (in a seemingly unending fashion), including those who have never previously experienced any major mental health difficulties.
Covid-19 has caused a society-wide trauma with an ever-changing course. For many people, an initial sense of disbelief pre-lockdown was followed by a sense of shock as the nation went into lockdown in March.
Positive aspects included the sense of collective spirit and unity exemplified by the volunteering drive as many employees were furloughed.
More recently, there has been evident anger and frustration, particularly following the death of George Floyd in the US and the subsequent global protests and riots.
There has also been a growing sense of disillusionment and distrust of authority figures. In a workplace context, we have seen high levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty about what the future holds.
Current workplace challenges
Employers should not underestimate the range of challenges their employees face psychologically. Aside from the direct psychological impact of Covid-19 (including anxiety, despair and cognitive impairment), which we are still gaining an understanding about, there are a multitude of indirect effects.
For example, one group of employees that were furloughed may have experienced significant stress because either they themselves or their relatives were unwell or isolated, have challenges around home-schooling their children and be disconnected from their friends and hobbies.
For some, the loss of identity resulting from being away from work can remove their sense of purpose and the same group could have anxiety about returning to work.
A second group of employees, working from home throughout the past six months, may find this overwhelming and have experienced so-called ‘Zoom fatigue'.
Maintaining boundaries between their work and home life is likely to have been challenging and, for those planning to return to the office, there may be anxiety about commuting and worries about how they will reintegrate into that environment.
A third group have continued working in the office, possibly finding themselves busier and more stressed than ever before. Such employees may be worried about their job security in a climate of looming redundancies and be at risk of burnout.
Indicators of burnout include: the prioritisation of work at the expense of leisure activities; brushing concerns under the carpet; failing to seek support; having unrealistically high personal expectations and taking on too much responsibility. This can be compounded by unhealthy organisational cultures.