In response to the rising cases of coronavirus in Wales, the First Minister has re-aligned the responsibilities of some ministers, giving Eluned Morgan new responsibilities for mental health and wellbeing.
Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Day, Carwyn Jones sat down with Ian Price of CBI, Alwen Williams of North Wales EAB, Katy Chamberlain from Business In Focus, and Robert Lloyd Griffiths, Director of IOD, to discuss mental health and well-being.
Is it a bad time to be a young person?
“The world and the economy and the rising unemployment and outlook for employment because of Covid – surely it’s putting pressure on young people,”
Alwen Williams said.
“I remember being asked what do you want to be when you grow up, and it felt like it could be anything. I don’t think young people have those privileges these days.”
The Senedd’s Children’s Committee has said that children’s mental health has suffered the “collateral damage” of Covid-19 and that improvements to services are happening too slowly.
Katy Chamberlain agreed that it was a “frightening” time to be a young person looking for work.
“It’s much harder to know how to access the opportunities that might still be there, you’re having to do it on your own in your bedroom or in your dining room rather than going along to a lot of the engagement events and careers festivals,”
She continued that it was important for universities, colleges, and schools to establish an online connection with young people and students to create a sense of support and to use social media as a “force for good.”
Pressure on businesses
Indeed, the estimated economic cost of mental health problems at work in Wales is £4.68 billion per year, according to Mind Cymru.
Robert Lloyd Griffiths said.
“Business owners and businesses that we speak to are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. The pressure to keep cash-flow operating, new orders coming in, and people in jobs during the pandemic has increased the pressures on businesses and the working economy,
For this reason, he said that it is important for businesses and organisations across the country to create a dialogue around mental health.
The lack of social interaction created by self-isolation and the need to work from home has also been highlighted as contributing to mental health.
Mr Lloyd Griffiths continued.
“Many of us since the start of lockdown, those of us who are fortunate to work at home, have been cooped up for meeting to meeting, and the pressures that businesses are under are immense,”
He also pointed out that the lack of face to face meetings meant that online meetings were arranged back-to-back, leaving little time to prepare.
“These calls are great but there’s no substitute for being in a room together and having a cup of coffee or perhaps a glass of wine,”
Ian Price added.
“That is seriously missing.”
Balance is key
Despite the pressures on employment and businesses created by the pandemic, it was also highlighted that it had created an opportunity for employers to re-evaluate how they work.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, visited the CBI Wales council in 2019 to discuss presenteeism: employees attending work but under performing due to ill health.
“I think there’s a certain type of individual who works all hours every day and therein lies the conundrum,”
Mr Lloyd Griffiths said.
“It’s only at the point where you become too overloaded and it affects your mental health and maybe even your physical health that it’s a problem and that will impact on the success or otherwise of your business. Now is perhaps the best time to initiate those policies to look after the mental health and well-being of your staff.”
During the first wave of the pandemic, the Welsh Government asked everyone who could to work from home. While this was a challenge for some, the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport said in a statement last month, working from home has given others greater flexibility in their working lives.
“If you can work two days in the office and three days at home, that will work better than maybe being in the office for five days,”
Mr Price said.
“There are signs with that balance that people will be more productive. If people feel that they are in control of their working week, that takes an added stress off them.”
“There’s far more recognition now that people have to be looked after better, that they have to be physically fit and have an opportunity to balance their lives,”
Ms Chamberlain added.
“I think there’s an awful more recognition that people can work in senior positions on a part time basis.”
Leaders within businesses and organisations could also benefit from demonstrating a work-life balance, Ms Williams added.
“I take time for my physical health and I like to think that the team that I lead see that as good behaviour because I don’t want to burn out so I know I won’t allow that to happen.”
“I hope that this horrible time ends as soon as it can so we can build back the economy and we can build into the economy the important lessons that we’ve learned but also looking after mental health and well-being so we can create a better economy for Wales and a better society,”
Mr Lloyd Griffiths said.