Mental health in the workplace - reflections through COVID-19


By Emily Meates, Psychological Health and Safety Partner & Wellbeing Lead at Bupa.


The past 12 months have brought about a mixture of emotions for everyone within our business. With such a large and diverse organisation, our people’s needs have been varied, with many teams needing support and resources for adjusting to altered ways of working, stress and boundary management, grief and loss, anxiety, self-care, and coping through lockdowns.

Typically, my role involves providing workplace mental health support, developing initiatives to foster psychologically healthy and safe work environments, and leading our employee wellbeing program.

Over the past year, COVID-19 has greatly influenced my work and has been a key driver of mental health support for our people. Whilst this time has been challenging for multiple reasons, our people have continued to demonstrate a deep level of care for both our customers, residents and patients, and for one another. Knowing that we have been able to support our people throughout this time and seeing the positive experiences they continue to create is something that fills me with immense pride.

Given the emotionally demanding nature of my work, people often ask me how I manage my own stress levels and keep a level head during challenging times. I’ve adopted a few different strategies to support my own stress levels during COVID-19. These include:

  1. Making sure I maintain a healthy balanced diet as much as possible.
  2. Going for a walk or exercising outside every day (even if it’s only 10 minutes).
  3. Having a good sleep routine in place each night.
  4. Physically separating my living space from my workspace, which has been helpful for switching off at the end of my day.
  5. Prioritising my downtime through reading, a warm bath, listening to music or a mindfulness meditation.

During times of stress, we can often get fixated on a singular issue or driver of anxiety, however it’s important to acknowledge that positive and challenging experiences can, and often do, exist together.

We can feel grateful to have a variety of measures in place to protect our health and safety, and that of our colleagues, customers and loved ones – but also frustrated that we can’t always be physically close to them, or that we can’t dine out at our favourite restaurant, or that we’ve struggled to obtain toilet paper! Thinking about what we are grateful for and frustrated about, can be a great way to gain this self-awareness and put things into perspective, you may wish to write a list.

If you are looking for ways to help support and improve mental health in your own workplace, there are some great practices and initiatives we have here at Bupa which have been very helpful:

  1. Practice compassionate, reassuring and understanding leadership, which is an essential component of a workplace not only through this pandemic, but always. Our Bupa Leaders have continued to regularly engage in clear, open, and caring communication, acknowledging the challenges, listening to our people, and reiterating the support available both inside and outside the organisation
  2. Ensure that employees have access to timely information that supports self-reflection and active participation in wellbeing. For Bupa this has remained a priority, and has so far included the development of factsheets and education sessions around looking after yourself whilst both working remotely, supporting children through the pandemic, managing anxiety, understanding grief and loss, burnout awareness and prevention and healthy eating.
  3. Continuously monitor your people’s needs, by engaging with them regularly, to ensure any wellbeing support you provide remains targeted and meaningful. Our people’s needs will continue to change so long as the environment around them continues to change.

The most important thing to remember is that every employee has a role to play in taking care of not only their own mental health, but that of those around them at work. The simple act of sharing a supportive email, taking time to recognise someone, encouraging connection through sharing your own experiences or being considerate of someone’s family situation can make all the difference between leaving someone floundering or making them feel safe and supported… a kind, considerate, respectful and safe culture is everything!

Stay safe, healthy and most importantly don’t be afraid to reach out for help.