October 2016 - Millions suffering in silence: Mental Health at Work

Employers across the UK are failing to provide adequate support to employees or equip managers with the skills to help them. More than three quarters (77 per cent) of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health in their lives, and for 62 per cent of employees work has been a contributing factor to poor mental health. Despite this, over half of employees (56 per cent) who disclosed symptoms of poor mental health said that their employer took no mitigating actions and only 22 per cent of managers have had relevant mental health training at work.

These are some of the findings from the Mental Health at Work report released today by the charity Business in the Community. The report shares findings from a national survey undertaken with research partner YouGov that heard from nearly 20,000 people in work across the UK.

The report finds bosses are disconnected from the reality of employee experiences. 60 per cent of board members believe their organisation supports people with mental ill health and 97% of senior managers believe that they are accessible if employees want to talk about mental health. However, 63 per cent of managers believe that they are obliged to put the interests of their organisation above the wellbeing of team members, and 49% of employees would not talk to their manager about a mental health issue.  

“Millions of employees are suffering in silence and feel unable to share their experiences at work. When they do reach out, many are met with an inadequate response,” said Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director at Business in the Community. “Our findings show that we need more openness, more training and information, and more support for employees and managers. This is why we are asking employers to take three steps – Talk, Train and Take Action.”

Managers do want to help - 76 per cent believe that staff wellbeing is their responsibility, yet 80 per cent say organisational barriers prevent them from delivering on this. The result is that default responses to supporting employees with poor mental health are time off work and a job change, both of which go against what employees want and best practice. 

Louise Aston continued: “It is good that mental wellbeing is on the radar for leaders and managers, but this is still not translating into the right workplace cultures or adequate support for employees experiencing poor mental health. Employers must accept the scale of mental ill health in the workplace and start taking a preventative approach now. This means getting the work culture right in the first place so that they promote good work and work life-balance. Progress will only happen when employers approach mental ill health as they would physical ill health – doing what they can to prevent ill health occurring or escalating, and ensuring proper support for employees when it happens. Employees must feel that the workplace is supportive of, rather than, detrimental to their mental health.”

The report also finds that:

  • In the last month alone, nearly a quarter of all of employees (24 per cent) experienced symptoms of poor mental health where work was a contributing factor.

  • When experiencing their most recent symptoms of poor mental health, just 11 per cent of employees discussed this with their line manager, and only 25 per cent felt able to talk to someone at work (such as a colleague, line manager or HR) at all.

  • One third of line managers felt that senior managers and HR departments had either been not very or not at all supportive when they were managing someone with poor mental health.

  • Organisational barriers cited by line managers include lack of adequate training (32 per cent), insufficient time for one-to-one meetings (26 per cent), and having to focus on performance targets (22 per cent).

  • Two fifths (40 per cent) of line managers are not confident in responding to symptoms such as panic attacks, depression and mood swings, compared to stress (77 per cent).

  • The fear of interfering or not knowing what to do prevents the bulk of the workforce (86 per cent) from approaching a colleague they are concerned about.

  • Structured support systems and HR are under-utilised by employees. 23 per cent of employees have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), but just 2% of employees used the EAP during their most recent symptoms of poor mental health and fewer than 2 per cent went to HR to talk about their mental health.

  • Younger workers are more likely to experience symptoms of poor mental health but feel less confident than older workers about discussing it with their manager. 43% of 18-29 year olds who have experienced these symptoms said the most recent episode was in the past month, compared to 29 per cent of 50-59 year olds. Fewer than half (46 per cent) of younger employees would be confident to tell their manager about a mental health problem, compared to 58 per cen of those aged over 60.

  • Male managers are less confident than female managers in responding to poor mental health, yet are less enthusiastic about mental health training.

Business in the Community is calling for employers to:

  1. Talk: break the culture of silence that Time to Change Employer’s Pledge.
  2. Train: invest in basic mental health literacy for all employees and first aid training in mental health to support line manager capability.
  3. Take Action: Close the gap by asking all staff their experiences in order to identify the disconnects that exist in the organisation.

The Mental Health at Work report draws on findings from the National Employee Mental Wellbeing survey, sponsored by Anglian Water, National Grid and P&G, and undertaken by YouGov. It is a collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), The Institute of Leadership and Management, Maudsley Learning at Work, Mental Health First Aid England, Mind and The Work Foundation, to transform workplace mental health.  

The Mental Health at Work report is available online here from Tuesday 4 October: http://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/surveyreport

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