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Exploring Wellness: 2021 and Beyond

Calendar icon 13th September 2021

By Dan Briselden, a Director in Zeren’s London office.


There has never been a more critical time to focus on mental health in the workplace than 2021. Many of us are feeling the after-effects of working through the COVID-19 pandemic; feelings of isolation and a long-term absence of social interaction have taken their toll.


As we navigate through September in the UK, many businesses are looking at a staggered return to the office. This in itself undeniably fuels another layer of challenges for those employees experiencing anxiety around COVID-safety.   


This past year, we have witnessed the exacerbation of the “always online” mentality, in that the majority of us now have fully-remote working setup, which simply requires us to “roll-out-of-bed” and fire-up the laptop. Consequentially, many of us are spending a lot longer “logged-in”, creating a blurred line between work and home-life.


The aftermath of the COVID-19 “lockdowns” has left a substantial number of employees feeling tired, stressed, burnt-out and depressed. There has also been a marked reduction in the number of annual leave days taken, fueled by an attitude of employees making sacrifices for the “greater good”, pulling together, and giving-it-their-all to help ensure the survival of the businesses they work for. Many have been disturbed by constant hyperbole in the news, or are dealing with the after-effects of COVID-19 either directly, or through a loved one. We have also sadly seen a rise in self-harm and suicide as a result of the pandemic.


Fortunately, mental health in the workplace has been gaining increased attention over the last few years; it is fast becoming a huge issue for businesses, with the estimated cost on the economy standing between £74 and £99 billion per year.


Indeed, before the pandemic, we were starting to see a breakthrough in communication, with leaders across well-known businesses sharing stories of their mental health challenges, and there being greater emphasis given to normalising conversations around mental health. 

The only thing that ever gets anything done, anywhere, is people, and so how those people are, how they feel, their energy, their well-being, really matters.

Tim Munden – Chief Learning Officer, Unilever

There is most certainly a stigma still attached to mental health issues; in many cases, employees feel unable to share their struggles on a personal level through fear of being judged as “weak”, and the affect that this may have on their career development.


In the past, when mental health issues started to impact upon performance or attendance, it was often frowned upon due to a lack of communication and understanding. It has often been met with punishment, rather than a collaborative effort of employer and employee working together to support them through a trying period. In recent years, there has been a much greater awareness, with many employers offering increased support and understanding, thereby meeting employees with a sense of humility and compassion.


COVID-19 has certainly accelerated the need for a more robust business case concerning the subject of mental health. Whilst this is still commonly in the “build” or “implementation” phase, we have seen many businesses taking the responsibility to put in place more comprehensive well-being policies, thus giving employees an increased access to more tools and technology to allow them to feel able to volunteer personal challenges, and seek help quicker. Ultimately, businesses are seeing an improvement on their productivity through employees feeling better understood; a recent report by Employee Benefits found that a sense of well-being in the workplace produced 31% higher  productivity in employees, and 59% increased loyalty and staff retention.


What Policies are Employers putting in place to help their Teams avoid Mental Health issues?

  • Awareness – First and foremost, there needs to be a heightened level of communication and awareness. Many business are indeed increasing their efforts to raise awareness of mental health, and create dialogue with employees on the subject. An increased awareness has also seen the rise of mental health days, alongside welcoming external bodies to give collaborative talks around the subject.
  • Training – Many businesses now have Mental Health First Aiders at every level in the organisation; these are volunteers who are trained to spot mental health issues early, and thereby are able to provide support for individuals who raise their hand for help.
  • Coaching – We have seen businesses  such as Starbucks offering US employees access to 20 free mental health sessions with a therapist or coach for every year of their employment; an initiative that is sure to fuel an increase in employee productivity, loyalty and overall well-being.
  • Access to Mental Health Applications and Technology – In 2020, the NHS partnered with Headspace to provide free access to Headspace Plus for all of their employees. Many other businesses have paid for subscriptions to popular well-being technology, to allow their employees to manage their mental health remotely. It is estimated that the adoption of wellness technology or “virtual health” has risen over 400% through 2021.
  • Well-being Programmes – Unilever have adopted a number of initiatives within their brands, aimed at helping to increase the adoption of various well-being programmes. Clear Shampoo has launched a 14-day resilience challenge for all employees dealing with a range of key mental health topics, in the aim that they “#comebackstronger”. Similarly, Lipton Tea is helping to tackle the issue of social isolation with their “#Unloneliness – You. Me. Tea. Now” campaign.
  • Manager-Owned Conversations – As part of many wider mental health policies, Managers are being given the responsibility of owning workplace conversations around mental health, including regularly checking in with their teams and ensuring that they are creating a culture that is supportive to their employees.


What are the Benefits of Implementing a Mental Health Strategy in 2021 and Beyond?

The list is by no means exhaustive when it comes to exploring the benefits businesses are recognising through increasing their adoption of mental health strategies; nevertheless, here are some common positive impacts:

  • A Reduction in Sickness and Absence, and a Boost in Employee Productivity – By identifying mental health issues early and providing timely support and combating techniques, employee productivity is likely to increase.
  • Recognition as an Employer with Ethical Values – This can have a huge impact on talent attraction and staff retention. With mental health issues affecting so many, employees are able to find comfort in the knowledge that they are working for a supportive and inclusive organisation.
  • Helping to Break the Stigma of Mental Health Issues – By adopting and implementing a wider mental health strategy, businesses are helping to contribute towards a better, and more healthy, future for people in the workplace.

It is clear that we have a long way to go before we resolve some of the challenges surrounding mental health in the workplace, but it is true that the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired many businesses to take responsibility. By working harder to create a culture whereby employees are able to gain support, and employers are able to provide robust solutions, our working society is likely to see a reduction in mental health struggles seen by both individuals and businesses as a whole, thus maintaining a happy workplace for the future.


Zeren exists to empower the world’s change makers. We have done so recently by placing numerous HR, People and Talent professionals into the world’s most innovative businesses.


If your business could benefit from the skill-set an HR, People or Talent professional would bring, or if you are an individual wishing to transition into the world of high-growth tech, please contact a member of the Zeren team.