Conclusions and recommendations
Prior research shows that mental health issues can have significant impacts on individuals and on the firms that employ them. Reliable sources indicate that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant negative effect on mental health in the UK, and previous studies have also identified factors associated with rurality that may provoke or exacerbate mental health issues, often related to living and working in more isolated settings.
Covid-19 appears to have had a slightly smaller impact on rural firms, and although rural firms and urban firms are equally likely to report having changed their business model as a consequence of the pandemic, urban firms were more likely than rural firms to report having moved to virtual meetings
and to have introduced working from home. This may reflect different working patterns pre-pandemic in rural firms. This may also be why rural firms were less likely to report employee wellbeing impacts of increased use of technology.
Understanding the ways in which employers in rural areas experience mental health issues has implications for the strategies and interventions that are put in place to address them, and will permit policy makers, support organisations and mental health experts to develop nuanced approaches relevant for rural areas.
Our findings indicate underlying differences between rural and urban firms’ approaches towards workplace mental health which may have policy implications. For rural firms, policies that foster and enable a more structured approach to workplace mental health may be appropriate, to encourage greater visibility of the extent and impacts of these issues. This in turn may encourage firms to adopt the initiatives and practices necessary to support their employees, including training for line managers, relevant in-house support and signposting to external resources.