Mental health tops workers’ lockdown worries

Unite: employers must take immediate and proactive measures

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Workers’ worried about their mental health have skyrocketed since the lockdown began – a new Unite survey has shown.

Dealing with employees’ mental health challenges on this scale is not going to be easy and Unite is calling on employers to take proactive and immediate action, following the call for workers to return to where they can, and working in ‘revised’ conditions.

Unite surveyed 22,000 workplace reps. Just under two thirds (65 per cent) of respondents recorded that they had to deal with an increase in members’ mental health concerns.

Concerns over pregnancy, maternity, paternity, adoption and other family leave (40 per cent) came next, then employers or managers exploiting the isolation of individual members (33 per cent), followed by bullying (26 per cent) and finally issues related to disability (24 per cent).

Unite understands mental health issues have been caused by a variety of 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.

The union has produced a mental health guide for members during the coronavirus pandemic.

Taking what Unite  calls a ‘proactive lead’ employers must carry out risk assessments with Unite’s involvement for returning workings, ensuring the issues identified by the survey are dealt with transparently –  with workforce pandemic support measures 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. It might be there are more specific mental health issues and specialist help from organisations like the NHS self-referral service and Mind should be available.

“Unite members operate across many sectors,” commented Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail. “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.”

Risk assessments imperative

Cartmail continued, “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,” she concluded.

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. Cartmail described this as “deeply troubling.”

“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.”


READ: The full survey’s findings  

READ: Survey author Unite head of research John Earls’ piece in Left Foot Forward


By UNITElive team @unitetheunion

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