A survey by Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has found that workers’ concerns about their mental health have increased dramatically since the lockdown began.
As a result Unite is calling on employers to take a proactive approach to dealing with employees’ mental health challenges immediately as workers return to the workforce and begin to adjust to revised working conditions.
Unite surveyed 22,000 workplace activists and just under two thirds (65 per cent) of respondents recorded that they had to deal with an increase in members’ mental health concerns.
This was followed by concerns over pregnancy, maternity, paternity, adoption and other family leave (40 per cent), employers or managers exploiting the isolation of individual members (33 per cent), bullying (26 per cent) and issues related to disability (24 per cent).
Unite understands mental health issues have been caused by a variety of different issues, including loneliness and isolation during the lockdown (especially if a worker is having to shield), excessive work pressures, financial concerns and fears about returning to work.
Unite has produced a mental health guide for members during the coronavirus pandemic and it believes that employers must take a proactive lead to monitor and protect workers’ mental health during the lockdown as workers prepare to return to work and while they readjust to the workplace.
Employers must carry out risk assessments with Unite’s involvement so that issues the survey identifies are dealt with transparently with measures to support their workforce during this pandemic, in the short, medium and long term.
It is essential that employers understand what is causing the workers’ mental health issues and then provide specific assistance on issues such as debt and financial concerns or for more specific mental health matters assisting them to contact a specialist organisation.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Unite members operate across many sectors. Many are key and frontline workers whose mental health may well have been affected when dealing with the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For workers who have been furloughed or working from home, problems of isolation, loneliness, concerns about debt and fears about returning to the workplace are all issues that affect workers’ mental health.
“It is imperative that employers undertake risk assessments on workers’ mental health and implement the required actions to protect workers. We urge them to do this while actively encouraging and assisting workers to raise mental health concerns and then ensure they receive the help they need.
“It is also crucial that employers understand that mental health issues will not disappear overnight and that additional awareness and assistance remains in place for the foreseeable future.”
The survey also found that while the majority of respondents (65 per cent) reported that employers have behaved responsibly, nearly one in five (18 per cent) reported that their employer had acted recklessly, for example in failing to supply PPE.
Additionally, 14 per cent of respondents to the survey recorded “my employer is taking advantage of the crisis” including attacking terms and conditions and forcing workers to take holidays.
Gail Cartmail added: “The figures of employers acting recklessly and looking to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic are deeply troubling.
“This is especially worrying given that Unite activists tend to operate in more responsible workplaces and the figure for workplaces which do not have a union presence will inevitably be far higher.”