Core 10: The Change Makers' Manual

Healthcare & Wellbeing


How has the pandemic affected staff wellbeing?

by Stephen Roper

T hree days before the first UK COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, my wife and I were sitting in a hotel room in Cape Town desperately trying to find a rescue flight back to the UK. This made for a stressful few On the same day, my colleagues in the UK were finishing the fieldwork for a survey of 1,900 Midlands employers on their experiences of mental health and well-being. The timing of this survey was fortuitous, as it provides a robust pre-pandemic benchmark against which to judge the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health in the workplace. With the support of the University days, though many endured worse during the pandemic.

of Warwick and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), we were able to repeat the survey in 2021 and 2022. This data provides a dynamic picture of how workplace mental health and wellbeing has changed over the last couple of years, as well as how employers have tried to cope with the challenges. This matters because of the personal and social costs of poor mental health and well-being, but also because of its economic cost. Pre-pandemic, the productivity costs of poor mental health alone to UK employers were between £42 billion and £45 billion, according to estimates by Deloitte. This includes the cost of mental health-related absence, at around £7 billion as well as presenteeism (when employees are at work but underperforming due to ill-health), at around £28 billion, and the


1. Before COVID-19, poor mental health cost UK employers up to £45 billion in lost productivity. 2. Levels of presenteeism and mental health absences fell sharply in 2021 despite COVID, but have since returned to pre-pandemic levels. 3. More firms now have a senior mental health lead and provide mental health training for line managers, but fewer have a budget for supporting good mental health. Half of UK employers offered staff support to maintain good mental health, compared to 90 per cent in the US. 4. The social and economic cost of poor mental health means firms should remain focused on mental health in the face of growing financial pressure and economic uncertainty.

cost of employees leaving work, at around £9 billion. A recent update suggests

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