Deteriorating mental health and cybersecurity top HR risks

17 August 2021 3 min. read

Companies in the UK have ranked deteriorating mental health of their staff as their top human resources risk. Cybersecurity – the top worry globally – was beaten into second place, as firms look to support their workers following more than a year of lockdown.

Even with the end of the UK’s extended social distancing measures, the Covid-19 pandemic is continuing to have a profound impact on the mental health of the country’s workforce. One recent study found 47% of all respondents faced a deteriorated mental health because of Covid-19.

This is not only due to the isolation many people endured in the lockdown months though. Mental health also deteriorated over the past year thanks to the severe the economic pressures brought on by the pandemic. The financial outlook has not drastically improved, even while lockdown has allowed for professionals to interact with friends, family and colleagues once more. At the same time, even with the vaccine having protected millions of people from infection, the Delta variant of the coronavirus means people still face anxieties about their health and safety in public.

Mercer - How the UK compares

Reflecting this, a new paper from Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) has confirmed that bosses in the UK view mental health issues as their top HR challenge over the coming months. The global survey of over 1,300 HR and risk management professionals found that internationally, most firms felt cybersecurity was the top concern – with their rapid digitalisation to accommodate remote working having exposed gaps in their security systems. However, in Britain this option was pushed down the agenda by mental health.

A statement from MMB argued this reflected the UK’s “considerable progress made in recognising and destigmatising mental health issues,” though MMB itself pointed months before the pandemic that most employees did not feel supported with their mental health. While mental health was already officially “a priority” at most companies then, 52% of workers polled said they felt work-related pressure had damaged their mental health, while one-third said they did not receive support in their role, and felt they could not “trust managers” if they spoke about this.

Two years on, what is different now? On the surface of things, companies might have been pushed to offer more support for mental health as previous turnover habits became unsustainable in the lockdown months. In a period of time when finding and training new workers to replace the burnt out ones exiting might have been noted as a resource intensive activity that companies could avoid by better supporting the mental health of their staff. Or, more pessimistically, nothing might have altered – and firms might still be paying lip-service for the sake of good PR, while not making any material changes.

“Despite deteriorating mental health being highlighted as a top concern to UK businesses, engagement among executive leadership and board level accountability remains low,” said Chris Bailey, MBB UK&I Consulting Leader. “This is particularly worrying as the UK Covid-19 restrictions end and businesses start asking employees to return to workplaces. Now more than ever the wellbeing and mental health of colleagues should be on boardroom agendas. For people related risks to be dealt with effectively, management need to be genuinely engaged and give them the necessary attention.”