Mental health challenges at work during COVID-19

If you’ve been struggling to look after your mental health at work during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. We’ve all faced countless and at times unexpected challenges on the long road out of this crisis, which have knocked our confidence and made us more anxious and worried.
According to findings in our new Hays Barometer Report, less than half of professionals now rate their current mental health in the workplace as positive, which is down 21 per cent since before the outbreak.  Clearly, this pandemic has had a devastating impact on the mental health of today’s workforce. 

Why care for your mental health at work during COVID-19?

At times of extreme stress, it can be difficult to find the time to stop and assess how we are really feeling. With no clear end to this pandemic in sight, it will be a long time before we return to ‘normal’ – if we ever do. Given this, it’s easy to see why our usual levels of resilience have taken a hit and we feel overwhelmed at times. 

But with COVID-19 continuing to impact our world of work, it’s important to take steps to maintain and safeguard our mental health and wellbeing at work. As we have previously noted, when you look after your mental health and wellbeing at work, you are happier, healthier, more productive and less stressed. 

To this end, it can be helpful to firstly understand the key challenges that have contributed to the declining rate of mental health during COVID-19. Then, you can look to address them one-by-one.

Top four mental health challenges at work during COVID-19

  1. Financial concern: During this pandemic, employees have certainly been pushed to their emotional limits and faced many challenges to their mental health and wellbeing. Topping the list of current mental health challenges is financial concern, which 40 per cent of professionals say has been the greatest challenge to their mental health and wellbeing. For many, the level of uncertainty currently faced has been difficult to manage. However, it’s worth noting that already 41 per cent of employers have returned to growth or rapid growth and vacancy activity is rising once more.    
  2. Concerns over physical health: Concern for our physical health has also had an impact on our mental health. Those deemed high risk or who are caring for young children or older relatives have faced additional concerns that have negatively affected mental health. Ironically, staying at home to protect our physical health has meant that most people have become less active, which can further negatively impact us mentally. 
  3. Apprehension over returning to the office: Concern about returning to the workplace is a challenge for 29 per cent of our survey respondents. Indeed, as we mention in our Hays Barometer Report, re-entry anxiety is impacting 51 per cent of the professionals who have been working remotely. These professionals do not yet feel safe and happy to return to their workplace and it may take some time before they do.   
  4. Isolation and loneliness when working from home: Rounding out the top four challenges is isolation and loneliness when working remotely. Regular communication with colleagues can help minimise these feelings, so keep in touch with your team and try to start or end the day with a more personal conversation to remain connected.    

Do you feel that the level of support received has increased?

Of course, workplace mental health challenges were already evident well before the pandemic. However, for many they have been exacerbated by the impact of the outbreak, which has raised stress levels and created additional pressure in the form of new and unforeseen challenges. 

Yet at the same time, supporting mental health in the workplace has become more of a priority for employers. In fact, 72 per cent say their organisation’s focus on mental health in the workplace has increased either significantly or moderately throughout this pandemic. 

This figure is, however, in stark contrast to the 26 per cent of professionals who agree that the level of support has increased during this time. 

Perhaps this gap will soon reduce, since 71 per cent of employers say mental health and wellbeing will become even more of a priority in their organisation over the next three to six months. 

What can you do to care for your mental health at work?

As the impact of the virus continues to be felt on our personal and professional lives, our mental health and wellbeing needs to be a top priority. Everybody is having different experiences, but regardless of your own personal circumstances, make sure you take time to regularly assess your own mental health, address any challenges and take steps to care for yourself mentally. 

While looking after your mental health and wellbeing at work isn’t always easy, particularly during COVID-19, there are some simple, practical actions you can implement.

After all, while we can’t replicate the old ‘normal’ of office life, we can take steps to ensure we’re doing all we can to support our own mental health through this current challenging period. 

About this author

Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.

Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.

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