The economic cost of the pandemic is not yet fully clear, even if the final bill is likely to eye-watering. But, as Vicky Walker argues, if UK plc is to get back on its feet post pandemic, it will need to focus on a wellbeing recovery as much as an economic one.
We all know the financial impact of Covid-19 on the UK economy has been significant. Back in July – even before factoring in the cost of the second wave of the virus and second national lockdown in England – the Office for Budget Responsibility put the nation’s coronavirus bill at more than £192bn, as the government sought to protect the NHS and give financial support to businesses and workers.
About the author
Vicky Walker is head of people at Westfield Health
There is much debate, too, about how our economy will eventually recover, and whether it is likely to be a V-shaped recovery (a sharp but relatively brief period of economic decline followed by a strong recovery) or a longer U-shaped return to growth.
Within this, however, one critical – but often overlooked – element in this recovery cycle is the role of employees and how workforces are supported from a wellbeing perspective going forward.
It has been well-documented that the pandemic has put heavy pressure on mental and physical health. To cite just one example, in June the Office for National Statistics reported that one in five adults had experienced some form of depression since Covid-19 appeared and that 84% of adults admitted to feeling stressed or anxious.
Growing employee wellbeing-related worrries
Remote working, mounting job fears, home schooling pressures and ongoing health concerns have combined to create new employee wellbeing-related worries that businesses must be attuned to.
Yet employers, with the help of OH practitioners, are in fact ideally placed to work to mitigate this dangerous deterioration in mental health and wellbeing.
This can be through providing reassurance and transparency in uncertain times but also through proactively working to support mental health and wellbeing. This could be in the form of mental health first aid training, the provision of employee assistance programmes, resilience training, financial wellbeing support, access to occupational health, or a combination of all of the above.
Employee wellbeing must become a central and strategic business priority so that companies and employees can work together to overcome the extraordinary circumstances we are in.
And, positively, we are already seeing evidence that organisations are reacting to the current challenges by proactively investing in wellbeing initiatives.
For example, research for our Divided Together report shows that 35% of HR leaders across the UK have increased their wellbeing budgets in the past few months, with the same percentage planning to continue investing into the future.
However, with greater wellbeing leading to better retention rates and higher productivity, wellbeing needs to be seen as a core, strategic priority that is handled across all departments, not just something left to HR or wellbeing representatives.
Ultimately, if, as a nation, we want to see a V-shaped economic recovery from the pandemic, it may be that we’ll need to focus on – and invest in – generating and sustaining a V-shaped wellbeing recovery as well.
“Cost of tackling coronavirus pandemic jumps to £192bn as UK heads for worst economic crash in 300 years”, Politics Home, July 2020, https://www.politicshome.com/news/article/cost-of-pandemic-jumps-to-192bn-as-uk-heads-for-worst-economic-crash-in-300-years
“Coronavirus and anxiety, Great Britain: 3 April 2020 to 10 May 2020”, Office for National Statistics, June 2020, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusandanxietygreatbritain/3april2020to10may2020
“Divided Together”, Westfield Health, https://www.westfieldhealth.com/divided-together-report