31st October 2022

ONS wellbeing report: "We are walking into a national wellbeing crisis" - reaction from psychologists and wellbeing specialists


If you're covering the ONS report into personal wellbeing published this morning, the following comments may be of use:

Carla Hoppe, founder of employee wellbeing specialists, Wealthbrite: “This data doesn't tally with what we're seeing on the ground. In our experience, there has been a steady downward trend in happiness and satisfaction since the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates of burnout, anxiety and stress are up and now, with the cost of living soaring, we are walking into a national wellbeing crisis. Employers need to invest in practical wellbeing support through programmes such as financial education and coaching. The payback is not just happier employees, it is higher rates of retention, loyalty and productivity. It makes good business sense to prioritise employee wellbeing.”

Desiree Silverstone, a psychotherapist at Head Honchos Executive Coaching: “Mental health is still too often seen as a taboo topic and should be discussed more openly in order to break the stigma surrounding it. In the workplace, mental health can often be overlooked or ignored. This needs to change. Companies need to create a culture that is more open and accepting of mental health issues. Progress has been made but in many of my coaching sessions people speak about being scared of letting others know how they are feeling. This is a fear that needs to be addressed. Employees should not have to fear disclosing their mental health issues for fear of losing their job or not getting a promotion. When managers set the tone for openness and honesty, it encourages employees to do the same. This creates a space where everyone can feel comfortable talking about their mental health without fear of judgement or stigma.”

Chris Mooney, Learning & Development Consultant at Bournemouth-based CM Learning, experts in positive mindsets and workplace wellbeing: “As the cost of living crisis weighs down on us, so, too, does the financial and mental stress that many are silently carrying. Employers must show support through meaningful action, rather than simply pay lip service. Managers should be put on courses that enhance their emotional intelligence, empathy and the skills needed to spot the signs of stress and provide support when it’s needed, rather than when it’s too late.”

Andy Chambers, of mental health technology provider, Syndi: “The past few years have been a great leveller for humanity, as regardless of our wealth, status, identity or perceived reasons to be happy, we have all experienced common mental health challenges, most of which we never saw coming. In the wake of the pandemic, and in the midst of a political and economic crisis, it has never been more important to be cognisant of the challenges this represents for all of us. There is an ever-growing body of research that supports our own real world experience, namely that investment in prevention is almost twice as effective as solving the cure. If businesses are to survive this very difficult time, they need to urgently understand their own mental health landscape and respond before the hidden cost of mental health puts a potentially catastrophic strain on their human and financial resources.”

Dr Felicity Baker, co-founder at wellbeing specialists, Ultimate Resilience: “In the past 12 months through our work with a variety of organisations across the UK, we have seen wellbeing rising up the priority list for both employers and employees. Employers are increasingly recognising their duty of care to provide mental health and wellbeing support for employees while employees, for their part, are actively seeking out employers who care. Recent research shows that financial pressure is now the leading cause of stress outside of work, outranking parenting, relationships and bereavement. Being in a poor financial situation is having a direct detrimental effect on people's mental health, producing physical and psychological symptoms such as loss of sleep, poor concentration and reduced motivation. There is an increasing onus on employers to support staff in relation to this issue.”

Paul Young, co-owner at Carmarthen-based wellbeing website, Spiffy - The Happiness Shop: “Since the lockdowns ended, we've noticed a big shift in our most popular well-being products. For adults, whereas it used to be about gifting to people who were struggling, we've seen a huge increase in the sales of self-care planners. COVID and lockdowns forced people to reevaluate their lives so much, and a lot of people have come out the other side with a definite interest in looking after themselves and prioritising their mental health. Post-COVID, work-life balance is much higher on people's agendas. Flexible working and working from home is something employees really want, and employers who struggle with this are going to find it hard to attract and retain staff."

Dr Jan-Sher Bhatti, clinical psychologist at LionMinds UK: “The most prominent wellbeing challenge right now is the cost of living crisis and struggling economy. Company directors will have more concerns about their finances and meeting targets for investors and these pressures will likely cascade down to every staff level. This may heighten work-related stress and raise questions about job security, whilst employees are also having to navigate their financial circumstances in the home and varying demands across family life. Given the cost-of-living crisis, with worries about keeping up with mortgages and heating homes, people’s emotional wellbeing will be tested, requiring them to tap into their resilience to weather the storm. I encourage my clients to consider what factors across their life might be within their control. Although people might not be able to change the world, they have opportunities and the ability to change their world and that of their loved ones.”

Felicity Pryke, yoga teacher at Finding Felicity: “Employers are learning that happy staff are more efficient, take less time off sick and are more likely to stay with their employer. And employees are no longer satisfied with just high wages: a positive working environment is very high on people's agenda when looking for a new job. All working people deserve to feel valued and appreciated for the work they do. I often find that HR departments and senior management are well aware of this, but the message gets lost as you move down the chain to middle management and the frontline. Businesses need to get over the idea that investing time into your staff — for example, allowing them to take part in short yoga classes or wellbeing sessions during work time, — is not detrimental to productivity. It is absolutely not a waste of time and money and they will reap the benefits of low staff absence and turnover in the long run.”

Dr Clare Gittoes, consultant clinical psychologist at The Heart & Soul Doctors: “Recent research by Deloitte found that just over half of employees believe that their leaders care about their wellbeing. Meanwhile, over 90% of CEOs believe their employees feel that they’re doing a good job when it comes to wellbeing. That's a serious disconnect. Many organisations have established support pathways for employees whose emotional wellbeing or mental health is in decline, but far fewer offer targeted, proactive and preventative support. What’s more, generic employee wellbeing programmes do not address the specific issues that are inherent during pregnancy and the post-partum period, an area we are really passionate about changing. The perinatal period is characterised by huge physical, emotional, psychological, hormonal and brain-based changes, in tandem with hugely significant environmental changes, shifts in role, responsibilities and identity. As a result, this period is an acutely vulnerable one for female employees. Indeed, recent research by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found as many as 4 in 5 new mothers experienced at least one episode of a mental health difficulty before or after the birth of their child. Three quarters of these mothers had never experienced previous mental health difficulties, prior to becoming a mother. This remains little understood and hence largely unacknowledged within workplaces, and is therefore rarely addressed as a specific need in terms of employee support packages.”

Paula Gardner, director at The Good Therapy Practice: “The effects of the Covid pandemic and lockdowns have had a massive and ongoing impact on people in the past 12 months, especially among those still working full-time or part-time from home. I am working with clients on their anxieties around feeling side-tracked, isolation, depression and grief. Covid may seem like it's no longer a big issue, but the after-effects are very much still with us. Additionally, remote working has created an "always-on" mode, which is increasing feelings of brain-fog and attention problems. Over 60% of my clients have said, in the past year, that they are worrying that they have ADHD. Workshops and education in the workplace are always helpful. These should be not just on how to deal and cope with issues, but how to set up healthy habits, structures and thinking patterns that can prevent mental health issues occurring in the first place. Recently, worries about the cost-of-living crisis are starting to creep into our sessions, and I can see this growing.  Mental health isn't just about what's going on in your head but what's happening in your wallet, too.”

Kate Underwood of Southampton-based Kate Underwood HR & Training: “More employers are taking wellbeing more seriously and are seeing the benefits of providing more support for employees. There are various platforms that help with not only mental health but financial wellbeing, which is so important at the moment. If an employer wants to improve their employees' wellbeing, they should start by asking them what they can do. Employers don't have a crystal ball so should do a quick survey or ask staff in one-to-one meetings. Financial wellbeing cannot be ignored in the current economic climate. It should not just be about health it should be about wealth, too. How you can employees function productively if they are struggling to buy food or heat their homes?”

Lee Chambers, a psychologist at Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing: “Wellbeing in the workplace has never been more topical. In some industries, burnout is becoming an ever-growing problem, and the cost of living crisis is putting significant pressure on employees' financial wellbeing, which impacts their mental health. The pandemic has increased employees' expectations of the support that should be in place, and more budget is being brought into wellbeing. But over the past few months, a range of organisations have been cutting budgets due to the deteriorating economy, and this will damage them in the longer term. When it comes to improving wellbeing at work, it's not the snazzy apps and boring powerpoints that make employees well, it’s having a strategy to ensure they have what they need to do the job sustainably, are managed like a human, feel safe to be themselves and have some appreciation for the work they do. I predict this winter will be a tough time for many, working from home is really difficult for some employees, and some industries are on their knees. Expect more strikes, more discontent and people voting with their feet. But amid all this instability, if employers create the right conditions for wellbeing and flexibility, they'll have the talent knocking on their door."

Dr Hannah Dennis, a clinical psychologist at Walsall-based HRD Consultancy: “The subject of wellbeing and mental health was brought to the fore by the pandemic. People became acutely aware of the impact on their lives of changes to their experiences, restrictions on their movement and the positive impact of connections with others. The pandemic is mostly now behind us, but how much have we learned from it? It is so important that the lessons we learned about employee wellbeing are not forgotten. In order to ensure productivity, employers should be mindful of their employees' mental health. Providing employees with opportunities for self-development, a feeling of making a difference and of being involved in decision making about their roles, can have a great impact on their wellbeing. Companies need to have a culture of caring, where wellbeing is promoted at all levels. There is an added benefit in that altruism also has a positive impact on our own wellbeing. There is a lot of worry and anxiety among the public regarding the difficult winter that lies ahead. Food prices are rising, fuel prices are high, and families are having to choose between heating or eating. These worries have an inevitable impact on mental health."

Emily Alexander, founder of Portsmouth-based workplace wellbeing consultancy, The Joy Dept: “Wellbeing came to the forefront when the pandemic forced us to stop and have a good look at ourselves and for the most part this was a shift in the right direction. Many people began to work on personal growth and explore better ways to wellbeing; exploring values and beliefs, looking at healthier routines, making more time for loved ones. On the other side we started to recognise significant increases in loneliness and isolation, and a number realised that their work no longer brought them joy. Redundancies, war, and inconsistency and chaos in government have made people unsettled and looking for more from life. Unfortunately due to the cost-of-living crisis, many employers are taking a ‘soft touch’ approach to wellbeing at work, training a handful of people in mental health first aid, but not digging into the cultural problems in the workplace that can lead to poor mental health, stress and absenteeism. They are reluctant to invest in their employees and more focused on profit margins. This has led to more people becoming self employed to find flexibility and freedom, leaving a wake of low-paid vacancies that employers can’t fill. Wellbeing should be a top issue for employers as it should be for individuals. Employers taking it seriously would also relieve a lot of pressure on our beloved NHS.”

Jenny Blyth, owner of London-based Storm In A Teacup Gifts: “It’s hard to summarise the impact this current crisis has had on the mental health of myself and my customers. The NHS has not got the resources to cope with the fallout from this impending mental health explosion. People feel alone and essentially they are alone. We don’t have 6 months to wait for an appointment, sometimes getting through the night is hard enough. This musical chairs-playing government has a lot to answer for.”

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