Disconnect between employers and staff on attitudes to mental health 1

Mental health

There is a massive difference between employers’ perception of the way in which they address mental health in the workplace and those of their staff, according to a new report being published today. While the majority (97 percent) of senior managers believe that they are accessible if employees want to talk about mental health problems, almost half (49 percent) of employees would not talk to their manager about an issue. The findings from the Mental Health at Work report, by the charity Business in the Community are that more than three quarters (77 percent) of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health in their lives, and for 62 percent of employees work has been a contributing factor to their symptoms. Despite this, over half of employees (56 percent) who disclosed symptoms of said that their employer took no mitigating actions and only 22 percent of managers have had relevant mental health training at work.

The report, which shares findings from a national survey undertaken with research partner YouGov that heard from nearly 20,000 people in work across the UK finds bosses are disconnected from the reality of employee experiences. 60 percent of board members believe their organisation supports people with mental ill health and 97 percent of senior managers believe that they are accessible if employees want to talk about mental health. However, 63 percent of managers believe that they are obliged to put the interests of their organisation above the wellbeing of team members, and 49 percent 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 percent believe that staff wellbeing is their responsibility, yet 80 percent 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 percent) experienced symptoms of poor mental health where work was a contributing factor.
  • When experiencing their most recent symptoms of poor mental health, just 11 percent of employees discussed this with their line manager, and only 25 percent 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 percent), insufficient time for one-to-one meetings (26 percent), and having to focus on performance targets (22 percent).
  • Two fifths (40 percent) of line managers are not confident in responding to symptoms such as panic attacks, depression and mood swings, compared to stress (77 percent).
  • The fear of interfering or not knowing what to do prevents the bulk of the workforce (86 percent) from approaching a colleague they are concerned about.
  • Structured support systems and HR are under-utilised by employees. 23 percent of employees have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), but just 2 percent of employees used the EAP during their most recent symptoms of poor mental health and fewer than 2 percent 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 percent of 18-29 year olds who have experienced these symptoms said the most recent episode was in the past month, compared to 29 percent of 50-59 year olds. Fewer than half (46 percent) of younger employees would be confident to tell their manager about a mental health problem, compared to 58 percent 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 surrounds mental health by taking the 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.