Employers urged to manage mental health of remote workers

DLA Piper launches mental health in the workplace report focussing on a range of topics including the legal aspects of stress at work. 

With businesses across Ireland set to reopen on 13 September, employers are making necessary adjustments to workplaces to ensure the health and safety of all staff.

While the health and safety of staff is a priority for employers, the focus on employee wellbeing is equally as important.

There are a number of factors currently affecting employees including balancing personal and professional responsibilities, social isolation, financial stress and, for employers, this has brought a renewed and increased focus to employee wellbeing and mental health.  

Recognising the impact of mental ill health in the workplace has progressed in recent years, corresponding with workers being prepared to open up about their mental health.

“The ability to work from home, once viewed as a perk, is now a double-edged sword and there is no doubt that it is overwhelming for some”

DLA Piper’s Employment Group in Ireland has published a detailed report on mental health in the workplace, covering a range of topics including the legal aspects of stress at work and how to handle difficult scenarios.

DLA Piper’s head of employment in Ireland, Ciara McLoughlin, said: “The pandemic has transformed our daily lives; people are trying to balance personal and professional responsibilities, with some homes doubling as workplaces as parents try to juggle childcare in between video calls.

“The ability to work from home, once viewed as a perk, is now a double-edged sword and there is no doubt that it is overwhelming for some. Added to this is the fact that certain individuals and households with existing problems have been deprived of their usual supports due to social distancing and the absence of protective routines or close presence of stressed family members.

“This brought to the surface previously hidden or well-managed mental health issues. Even though the workplace looks a little different for most people, workplace wellness has never been so important.”

While it’s still too early to know the full extent of the psychological and mental health ramifications of this pandemic, it is likely to be significant, a fact recognised in the Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol.

Long-lasting impact

A review on the impact of quarantine, published by Lancet in March 2020, found that there is likely to be wide-ranging, substantial and long-lasting psychological and mental health effects arising from this pandemic.

“Mental ill-health can also be easily disguised, it tends to be invisible and working from home can often allow it to stay hidden”

As a result, employers will be required to take a positive approach to promote and maintain good employee mental health and to prevent problems arising. 

“The impact of COVID-19 has made mental health a broader societal issue with significant implications if left unaddressed – the financial costs, the adverse business impacts of mental ill-health including employee absence, staff turnover, loss of skills, and legal and reputational risks,” added Ms McLoughlin.

She claims that working from home under the current circumstances may possible lead to a spike in mental health issues among workers, and that it will be harder to detect.

“Traditionally, the workplace has not been the most open environment for mental health dialogue”

“Mental ill-health can also be easily disguised, it tends to be invisible and working from home can often allow it to stay hidden. All of this makes it an issue worth tackling early. Our recommendation is that businesses who have not addressed workplace mental health (either recently or at all), should use this as the impetus to review and audit their strategy to ensure that it is meeting business needs.

“Traditionally, the workplace has not been the most open environment for mental health dialogue, however, that has evolved in recent years and the fact that wellbeing offerings are now an important part of attracting and retaining employee talent mean that employees’ mental health is being acknowledged and spoken about openly in a way that it never has been before.

“Mental health is recognised as being equally important as physical health, so workplace wellbeing programmes are not just the right thing to do, it is smart business. Employees benefit from access to support, and employers benefit from reduced absence levels and increased productivity as well as a positive employer brand,” she concluded.  

DLA Piper’s report Mental Health Matters: Managing wellbeing in Irish workplaces is to read available here.

By Stephen Larkin

Published: 27 August, 2020