9% Cross-Sector Increase in Employers Adopting Mental Health Support for Staff: A COVID-19 Silver-Lining?

Although there’s been a rapid increase in employers adopting workplace mental health and wellbeing strategies in recent years across countries like the UK, Australia, Canada and the US, with the advent of COVID-19 the agenda has quickly risen as a priority for many companies. And arguably for individuals as well, as most all of us have been under unusual and increased levels of stress and anxiety and exceptionally conscious of the difference self-care can have toward our wellbeing.

Make a Difference Media ran a survey of 100 workers from across different sectors to get an idea of how many employers were new to adopt mental health support for workers as a result of COVID-19. The survey which ran in early summer 2020 included workers ranging from SME’s to multi-national organisations with primarily senior level job titles ranging from CEO’s to Global Head of Learning and Development. Companies represented ranged from:

  • Healthcare
  • Arts & Entertainment
  • Professional Services
  • Non-profit
  • Manufacturing
  • Technology
  • Education
  • Retail
  • Social Services
  • Finance and Insurance
  • Real Estate

Are Companies Making Mental Health a Bigger Priority?

The overwhelming answer was, yes:

  • Before the COVID-19 health pandemic respondents reported that the level of priority mental health took in their organisation was 63% compared to other people support initiatives.
  • Respondents reported that after COVID-19 the level or priority grew to 72%.
  • Our survey showed that there was a 9% increase in priority of mental health agendas amongst senior leaders.

Are Individuals Making Mental Health a Bigger Priority?

As we previously reported, in mid-May a UN paper stated about the global impact of the crisis on people’s mental health “many people who previously coped well, are now less able to cope because of the multiple stressors generated by the pandemic”.

People who previously thought they’d never be the 1 in 4 who experience a mental health problem at any given time in a company have found themselves struggling to cope during the crisis.

This corresponds with our survey findings which found that yes, people are focusing more on their mental wellbeing:

  • 53% surveyed said they’ve changed their personal behaviours to support their own mental health since the start of COVID-19.
  • 28% surveyed said they’d somewhat changed their behaviours.
  • 19% said they hadn’t changed their habits at all.

What Habits are People Changing for the Better?

Some of the behaviours that people disclosed they’d adopted as a result of COVID-19 included:

  • I make sure to prioritize the scheduling of a 20-minute meditation every day.
  • I’ve begun to focus more on exercise as a way of maintaining balance and taking time to meditate first thing in the morning. Taking time during the day to take a walk when possible.
  • Going out for walks, exercise, reaching out to friends via video calls on a regular basis, offering my services for free for people in real need via serious non-profit organizations.
  • Actively engaging in all foundational determinants of mental health (diet, sleep, exercise, relationships, lifestyle).
  • Have been listening to self-love podcasts and podcasts for good mental habits. It’s one thing I can control, and it’s important after being laid off.
  • Elevated exercise. Established stopping time at the end of the day.
  • I make sure I do morning wellness activities, combining short qigong with either breathing or short exercises. I meditate more often as well.

What Other Recent Research is Saying

The HSE Network ran a survey in July 2020 of 1,513 workers from a range of sectors across the UK. It found that 55.7% of people working in UK businesses still don’t have access to mental health support, nor do they know if their business has workplace mental health policies in place.

Whilst Make a Difference’s survey was much a much smaller sample of workers, it still revealed a similar outcome—that more employers are taking the mental health of staff seriously right now in the professional world.

44.3% of UK worker surveyed currently are aware of mental health support in place through their employer. Five years ago in the UK this figure would have been significantly lower. This says a lot about progress being made around stigma on the topic improving, awareness raising initiatives and support on offer being widely communicated and utilised by workers and importantly, mor investment cases being approved by companies to invest in the wellbeing of human capital.

The Silver Lining

Prior to COVID-19 in the UK 14.3 million working days were estimated to be lost per years due to employee stress, depression and anxiety, costing employers around £45 billion each year.  When this research is updated post COVID-19, it’s sure to increase significantly.

Sometimes it takes a crisis or tragedy to broaden awareness of social issues and motivate people to act; to impact widespead social change. Like we’ve seen with the death if George Floyd in the US and the resulting Black Lives Matter Movement, systems that were perpetuating racial inequality are rapidly being disrupted across the world, as are fears and stigmas around mental health. We are still in the middle of the health crisis and there is no current end in sight. It’s arguable that it’s no longer 1 in 4 of us experiencing a mental health problem at any given time, based on the UN’s research it may be closer to 3 in 4.

Our employers are improving policies and practices to support mental health and we as individuals are also focusing more of self-care and looking after one another in 2020. That’s unlikely to change. The social awareness is spreading as more of us are living through these experiences ourselves. I’d like to believe that this will be a positive silver lining to result from the health crisis: a more health and wellbeing-conscious, empathic humanity.

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In the words of Gandhi:

It’s the action, not the fruit if the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.

The future depends on what you do today.


Managing mental health of employees through COVID-19 will be a core topic discussed at our global digital events this October, including Make a Difference Summit US in Association with Mind Share Partners on 15 October, 2020 and Mad World Summit UK on 8 October, 2020.

About the author




Heather Kelly is the founder of Aura Wellbeing, a consultancy providing workplace wellness strategy, coaching and training services to employers. She’s also Content Director for Make a Difference Summit US and Online Editor for Make a Difference News. Heather led the development and operation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index, during her time working for the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. In her earlier career she worked as a photographer, a journalist and a senior manager in the insurance industry. She’s passionate about inspiring more empathy and awareness in workplaces toward normalising mental health and in her spare time Heather teaches photography to teens as part of a charity projects in London and Spain, she’s an avid runner and experimental chef for recipes promoting healthy minds.


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