COVID-19 isn’t over. But it’s fair to say that companies across Europe are learning to live with it. Many organisations are reopening their offices, onboarding recruits and kick-starting staff development programmes that have been parked since early 2020.

So why isn’t every candidate jumping for joy? The truth is that professionals have struggled over the past year as the cycle of lockdowns, false dawns, and health scares took its toll. And since there’s no vaccine against mental health challenges, you need to make sure you have a supportive culture and wellness-first policies in place if you want to attract top talent.

To help you meet those goals, Michael Page surveyed around 4900 applicants across Europe from mid-May to mid-July to find out how they coped during the pandemic and how they think employers should support staff going forward.

How candidates coped with the pandemic

It’s not all doom and gloom — when asked to sum up their mood in a single word, almost seven in ten candidates responded positively. “Motivated” was the most popular choice, followed by “hopeful”, suggesting that many professionals are looking to put the tough times behind them.

Nonetheless, over 60% of respondents reported negative impacts from the pandemic. Topping the list were higher levels of stress/anxiety (22% of candidates), weight loss or gain (20%) and a decline in sleep quality (19%).

It’s too simplistic to blame these adverse effects on isolation and remote working alone — a full 65% of candidates said they didn’t feel lonely working from home. A more significant factor could be the number of workers who believed their employers lacked empathy and understanding, with 40% feeling that their manager neglected their mental health and 50% that they got less credit for their work. With or without a support structure, candidates developed their own coping strategies, with exercise (57% of respondents), healthy eating (52%) and maintaining contact with friends and loved ones (52%) the most popular options.

Building back better

With employees under pressure, what are companies doing to address mental health challenges? Strikingly, only 26% of respondents said their present or last company communicated about mental health, while just 22% reported that those employers set up actions or policies to address the issue.

This unwillingness to talk about mental health cuts both ways. For their part, only 27% of candidates polled said they felt confident to talk about mental health with their managers. They were far more likely to raise the subject with family members (82% of respondents), friends (75%) and doctors or mental health professionals (73%). Only around a third said they felt confident to talk about mental health with their colleagues, suggesting that there’s still some stigma attached to this in the workplace.

Finally, job seekers have some advice for employers on building an organisational culture that prioritises mental health. Just over half believe that companies should lean in more strongly on flexible work patterns and consider policies like banning emails and meetings during non-official working hours. Other popular ideas include employee recognition programmes (37% of respondents), better communication with managers to control time and task planning (36%) and “well-being” initiatives running the gamut from meditation workshops to mindful eating courses (31%).

Michael Page understands the importance of finding the right match between employer and employee based not just on a competence, experience and skills basis, but also in ensuring the cultural fit and working dynamic works for both parties. If you would like to talk to one of our expert consultants about how Michael Page can help you find the right talent for your organisation, or to talk about the results of our latest survey, get in touch today!

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