Mental health must be a top focus for frontline Facilities Management firms says PwC

With countries such as China and Italy reporting an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder across frontline workers during Covid-191, PwC believes Facilities Management (FM) firms must act now to address mental health among its employees.

Across the frontline, alongside doctors and nurses, an army of cleaners, porters, catering staff, engineers and maintenance teams are working through lockdown to keep hospitals and care homes running - and around 40% are employed under outsourced contracts by FM firms.

While a number of companies have engaged in supporting mental health initiatives within their organisations - for example providing Mental Health First Aid training and running campaigns to destigmatise mental health in their organisations - this is not universal across the sector.  Crucially, it is also unlikely to go far enough to respond to the acute challenges caused by COVID-19. 

With the impact of mental health issues costing UK business an estimated £1,035 per employee, per year2, and Canadian studies showing that the prevalence of mental health issues during this Covid-19 pandemic could be in excess of 40% among frontline hospital staff, acting now to introduce or enhance mental health provision is an economic as well as a moral imperative. 

As the UK marks 100 days of lockdown, Anna Blackman, PwC UK’s Business Services leader, believes that FM companies must act now to address the mental health of their frontline workers in order to support them so they can continue to keep our hospitals and key facilities running during this pandemic period. 

“From janitors to porters and catering staff, these workers are keeping essential frontline services running throughout the current COVID-19 crisis and as a result, the mental health of these vital cogs in the NHS ecosystem is as important as the mental health of the doctors and nurses. 

“These employees will be experiencing a very challenging work environment and will have been impacted by the large number of admissions and patient deaths, as well as the Covid related deaths of colleagues.

“This is not an environment that many FM firms will have been exposed to and as a result, many will not have a sturdy mental health framework in place to support employees as they work through the pandemic and cope with issues that are emotionally challenging and physically draining. But that doesn’t mean they can’t act swiftly to stem the potential rise of depression and PTSD across their workforce that is already being seen in other affected countries.”

In response to the pandemic, NHS England has recognised mental health as an issue and put a range of support in place for it’s 1.2million strong workforce3, including a mental health helpline as well as partnering with Headspace, UnMind and Big Health to offer a suite of apps for no charge to assist staff with their mental health.

According to PwC, FM firms can also take a number of simple and effective steps including:

  • Identifying senior leaders in the business to speak out about mental health and share their experiences. This has a profound impact on employees willingness to speak up and share their experiences.
  • Giving staff access to employee assistance programmes and other resources - and regularly publicising these across the organisation to encourage people to ask for help.
  • Creating a network of people across the organisation who can champion mental health and wellbeing.

Anna Blackman added, 

“The ignorance, shame and stigma associated with mental illness means many people either don’t recognise what is happening to them, or are too afraid to ask for help. This is why a robust mental health infrastructure is vital to enable them to open up and exorcise these experiences and issues before they escalate. 

“As a business-to-business services firm, we’ve been all too aware of the need to de-stigmatise mental health and encourage dialogue across the organisation, giving our people a range of platforms to discuss personal experiences and, as a consequence, bring their whole selves to work4. Normalising conversations about mental health has been good for our people and our business and I’m convinced that by addressing this now, FM firms will also reap similar rewards even in these unprecedented times.”

Strategy&’s latest post Covid-19 insight report, Where next for business-to-business services?5, notes that firms across this sector, including Facilities Management companies, need to reassess the value of the ‘new frontline’ of essential services.  It states that while this will necessarily have a knock-on effect on costs, those successful businesses after the pandemic will be the ones who can combine value in employees and investment in technology for efficiency, consistency and resilience with the ability to ensure their clients understand the value of what they are buying. 



Notes to editors

1- Studies from Italy and China have shown a sharp increase in depression, anxiety and PTSD in frontline health workers with research in Canada showing a 40% prevalence of PTSD  from nursing staff and frontline health workers following traumatic / crisis events with expectations this will rise during Covid-19 -   and

2 - Mental Health at Work: Developing the business case, Sainsbury Centre, 2007

3 - Department of Health and Social Care Annual Report and Accounts 2018-2019

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