Companies have been urged to make the mental health of their employees a part of their response plan to Covid-19. 

Tomorrow is the World Health Organisations' World Mental Health Day, with the topic even more relevant to employers this year given the knock-on effects of the pandemic. 

That has included increased uncertainty, additional workloads for staff and the added stress of remote working.

According to Mary Connaughton, director at learning and development organist CIPD Ireland, companies had already shown more engagement with the topic - even before Covid-19 became an issue. 

However there was now a need to go even further than before, she said. 

"Our figures from last year told us that employee well-being was much more on the agenda than it had been, but it’s now critical that more attention goes towards mental health," Ms Connaughton said.

"We would have seen that actions being taken included counselling and EAPs (Employee Assistant Programmes), and there was more work around awareness and support for employees - but the uncertainty that has come about in the last year has increased the need for all of that," she said. 

Ms Connaughton said the steps companies need to take are relatively simple - starting with them ensuring that management are able to speak to staff about their mental health. 

Having an understanding around the topic is also important, she said.

"We think companies need to ensure that their managers are able to have one-to-one conversions with their workers to aid in their mental health and that they understand some of the symptoms to look for and spot, so they can then look for the right supports," Ms Connaughton said. 

Letting workers know there is an openness around the issue is also a help. 

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"Just talking about mental health and having leaders say 'I struggle at times, I've had difficulty’ is very encouraging and people feel they can come forward and actually talk about it and engage," Ms Connaughton said. 

Having some kind of social element in place can also help - especially now that so many workers are doing their jobs remotely. 

However Ms Connaughton also accepted that employers can do a lot for their employees’ mental health simply by ensuring they are not over-worked, and have an adequate work-life balance. 

Many companies may appreciate the importance of mental health, but also feel that the existential challenges posed by the Covid-related downturn are their priority. 

Ms Connaughton said that firms should not look at employee well-being and the company’s recovery as separate issues, but two sides of the same coin. 

"In reality companies that are struggling are very dependent on their employees to actually contribute and give the performance that will rescue the company," she said. "So it's not something that you can just put aside and wait for the right to address," she said. 

"Being alert to it is important right at this time, because it will also help the performance of other employees, as they will see their employer showing care and compassion even while everyone is trying to ensure the survival of the company," she concluded.