Employees with access to professional counselling at work are encouraged to use the services for wellbeing support during the pandemic.

Our member Nicola Banning, a specialist in supporting mental health at work, says counselling can help people with work-related stress and the uncertainty thrown up by the pandemic.

Professional counselling

Nicola said: “I wish everyone knew this, but more than half the UK workforce has access to professional counselling paid for by their employer, and this should be a first port of call.

“We’ve been in a crisis situation for a long time, so this is a good time to press pause and find some space where you can reflect and talk about your work, life and wellbeing in confidence.”

She added: “Ask occupational health, a manager, a colleague or HR and say you’d like to speak to a professional counsellor.

“If you don’t want anyone to know, check on your staff site and see if your employer has an Employee Assistance Programme as most large employers will.

“It’s one of the quickest ways to access professional help and you’ll be speaking to a trained counsellor, usually in less than a week.”

Stress and uncertainty

Coronavirus and the lockdown restrictions have created work-related stress and uncertainty for many people.

While some people have never stopped physically going to work, for others the pandemic has turned their working lives upside down.

It’s led to changes in working patterns for some; uncertainty and insecurity for others; and new challenges for many such as home-schooling or self-isolating.

Nicola, who is editor of our Workplace journal, said: “If we put the legitimate anxiety and fear of the pandemic to one side, our working lives are now confined, demanding and in some ways, more complex.

“I’m hearing from staff that have been overworking and not taking leave, for almost a year, so there is a lot of exhaustion, less personal and team resilience which effects morale and how people feel and behave at work.”

Nicola said that managers or colleagues who are acting unreasonably and out of character could be due to a prolonged state of stress.

Home working

“Added to that, the boundary between home and work is now blurred,” she said. “So if you have an angry or badly behaved colleague or manager, they’ll be projecting their behaviour into your home.

“It’s not only uninvited but it leaves people feeling powerless and unsure of what to do. This will all contribute to our capacity to enter a flow state – a state where we can concentrate deeply and lose ourselves in the task – because there are threats everywhere, known and unknown, and we aren’t psychologically safe in our work.”

Nicola pointed to research which suggests the pandemic is adversely affecting women’s careers in particular.

“This leads to overwhelmed employees trying to work, while looking after children or loved ones and home-schooling,” she said. “It can lead an employee to think ‘the problem must lie with me’ and thoughts patterns such as ‘I’m not coping’ or ‘I’m no good at my job’ can take hold.

“This fuels anxiety at a time when work is precarious, there are fears about job security, whether contracts will be renewed and threats of redundancies are widespread.

“Carers, in particular, are at risk of burnout and the people who do the most caring in society paid and unpaid, will probably be receiving less care than ever – through formal and informal support networks.”


Nicola said that support can come in many forms, including counselling.

“It could be from a friend, a hobby or anything that helps you to relax and recharge,” she said.

“Counselling can also support you and be a place where you can think, reflect and review with a counsellor and it’s not just there for when you are in crisis.

“Once you feel more supported, you’ll be in a better place and resourced to make changes or face difficult decisions.”

Nicola added: “Counselling can help to keep us stay well and resilient by focusing on our strengths and increasing our capacity to respond to difficulties and we’re going to need this throughout 2021.”

If you want to speak to professional about any of the issues in this article, you can find a BACP counsellor near you through our directory.