Latest employee mental health at work evidence highlights role of line managers during COVID-19

employee mental health covid

Employee mental health in the spotlight in these tough times

Organisations and their leaders are in many ways flying blind this year, thanks to the unprecedented events of the Covid-19 pandemic. Seeing ahead is harder than ever before in a situation where guidance for employers can change almost on a daily basis.

Look ahead they must, however. Because Covid-19 will undoubtedly leave in its wake many physical and mental health impacts. Employers must not only anticipate these but make practical plans about helping employees through them.

This week sees the release of the BITC Mental Health at Work 2020 findings, timed in the runup to World Mental Health Day this weekend. It presents some of the first early indicators of the mental health challenges that may lie ahead.

Findings by BITC suggest that 41% of employees have experienced mental health symptoms caused or worsened by work itself. Yet work pressure alone is far from the only driving force this year. Those working during lockdown and for companies feeling the squeeze may well have felt huge pressures, while others may have worries about returning to workplaces.

Outside work, anxiety about infection, jobs, families and the wider economy is inevitable. Many people have suffered worries about their own health and that of loved ones during lockdown, and may have directly experienced bereavement. Research by MIND, the mental health charity, suggests that more than 60% of all adults feel their mental health has been impacted by the pandemic.

Covid-19 has raised employee health and wellbeing higher on the agenda than ever. As employers consider how to manage the practicalities of physical health and infection control, they must not neglect the mental health side of the question. But are organisations as comfortable preparing to support employees with emotional as with physical health issues?

Our employee health expert Dr Steve Boorman has spoken at the launch of previous reports for BITC. He reflected on this year’s findings: “Last year’s report had already highlighted the rising trends of poor mental wellbeing and, particularly worryingly, suicide. This year’s report lands in a very different working environment and raises new challenges for managers as they support staff with changing needs.”

Encouraging signs and important questions

“The pandemic has acted as a catalyst to elevate mental health on a parity with physical health.”

Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director at Business in the Community

The study surfaces some encouraging signs that organisations may be more supportive of mental health than ever before – this year 63% felt that organisations were behind them on this, up significantly on last year. We applaud this, of course.

MIND, the mental health charity, is encouraging everyone to do ‘One Thing’ to help mental health.  We would encourage employers to make this one thing a true and proactive commitment to supporting employees’ mental health better, not just post-Covid but in the long term.

Dr Steve Boorman concurs: “Line managers play a vital role in keeping workers well, something that we at Empactis deeply understand. It is now even more crucial that they are not just able to recognise that many employees will have unrecognised issues, but are aided and encouraged to help them. Despite the fact that mental health issues are often assumed to be ‘difficult to manage’ some can be helped with quite simple support. Mental health is sometimes ignored, but good employers can be proactive, and ensure that managers have the competencies and tools to help their staff when needed. This is not just critical for individual workers but will play a key role in business continuity in the challenges of the next year.”

Taking action on mental health for staff means answering several important questions:

  • How will you support line managers to engage with people around mental health concerns?  This year, only 14% of those who had reported work-related poor mental health spoke to their line manager. Such reluctance is a worrying trend that has been reported for several years in multiple studies. Though 58% feel their manager knows that emotional support is part of the job, managers are not always empowered to fulfil this role.
  • How can you spot and act on connections between employee issues such as absences, performance problems, and possible mental health needs? Having platforms and processes that connect activities and correlate data will be important to raise alerts, prompt actions and enable a complete perspective.
  • How will you assure effective intervention and support for employee mental health needs? It will also be essential to have the right administrative procedures in place so that HR can step in quickly when needed to coordinate support, and to have appropriate occupational health support in place to deliver clinical help.
  • How will you track and manage employee health cases and data overall, including mental health? Complete and clear case records must be highly secure yet appropriately accessible for clinicians and others, to provide support and counselling, and enable work adjustments or role redesign.

“World Mental Health Day 2020 is the most important one yet. The months of lockdown and loss have had a huge impact on us all, and prioritising mental health has never been more important than it is now.”


If you want to take action around any of these questions, get in touch. Empactis is an employee health platform that can help you empower and support line managers, collect and connect information in real time and join up important processes for managing mental and physical health, as well as connected challenges such as absence and case management.