From education to employment

Changing ‘Work for the Better’ through a New Focus on Mental Health

Matthew Percival, CBI

Permanent Changes to the Way We Work 

The past year has been a big challenge for everyone as Covid-19 threatened health and livelihoods. While lockdowns and social distancing are temporary, changes to where and how we work could be permanent. The most discussed change has been the huge expansion of flexible working, leading some to question whether this crisis will mark the end of offices as we knew them.

Isolation, home schooling, looking after vulnerable relatives, ill-health, bereavement, being placed on furlough and being made redundant are all issues that have affected workers’ mental health and wellbeing. Mind found that 60% of adults and 68% of young people said their mental health worsened during the first lockdown. ONS figures show that by June 2020 the number of people experiencing some form of depression had nearly doubled from 10% to 19%.

Accelerating the Pace of Change

Many employers have responded to this unprecedented mental health challenge by stepping up support for their employees, developing, implementing and enhancing mental health and wellbeing strategies and action plans.

Mental health was rising up the corporate agenda anyway with a growing number of business leaders making it a priority in their organisations. The challenges of the last year have rapidly accelerated the pace of change and there can be no turning back.

Business Case

The business case for improving workplace health and wellbeing is watertight. Companies perform better when their staff are happier, healthier and more engaged and it also leads to increased productivity. Before the pandemic 1 in 4 people experienced poor mental health during their working lives and poor mental health alone cost UK businesses up to £99bn each year.

Vaccine rollout offers hope that life will begin to return to normal, but during that time businesses will continue to have a vital role to play in supporting the nation’s mental health by supporting their workforce as best as they are able to.


In many ways ‘normal’ can’t return quickly enough, but changing workplace conversations about mental health is one of the few new features of the last year that we’d all be better off keeping. It is the step change in employer approaches to mental health that has the greatest potential to permanently change work for the better.

Recommendation 1

The first step in supporting your employees’ mental health is to understand how they are feeling as well as the factors influencing their mental health response to the pandemic. This can be achieved by conducting regular company pulse surveys, or by working with employee groups to understand the most common factors impacting them.

Recommendation 2

Mental health has to be part of everyday conversations. Senior leaders can for example share their own stories and talk about the ways they are coping – it helps to make mental health a safe topic for employees at every level. Conversations about mental health can be included in team meetings and catch-ups. Line managers are key, so suitable training and support to help them spot signs of poor mental health and host good conversations about mental health and wellbeing is very important.

Recommendation 3

Mental health action plans can be useful tools to identify steps that help individuals and teams look after their mental health and wellbeing at work. If it is used at a team level then make sure it is kept in an accessible location and is reviewed regularly.

By Matthew Percival, CBI

Understanding and Overcoming a Mental Health Crisis in 2021

This article is from the new publication Understanding and Overcoming a Mental Health Crisis in 2021: issues for post-16 education, employment, the world of work and retirement’. 

Some of the issues and concerns for mental health discussed existed prior to the pandemic, but Covid-19 has caused additional pressures on young people and adults. 

The authors make specific recommendations to support apprentices and students at colleges, university and in adult learning, as well as people in and out of work.

The important role of education, lifelong learning and good work in promoting mental wellbeing and reducing mental health problems is also addressed. 

Published by the Campaign for Learning, it brings together sixteen specialists from mental health and post-16 education and employment to set out what needs to be done to prevent or limit a mental health crisis in 2021. 


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