Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Employer taboo surrounds mental health discussions in the workplace

With Mental Health Awareness Week just around the corner, Barnett Waddingham reminds UK employers of the importance of their employees’ mental health and urges them to take positive and proactive action to improve employee wellbeing strategies.

Our recent wellbeing research of UK employees, Why BWell, revealed that 43% of staff are currently struggling at work and admit they are not comfortable discussing this with employers – a further 1 in 4 are not comfortable discussing mental health in particular. A major cause of mental health problems in the workplace is stress with more than a third (37%) of employees struggling to manage workplace pressure.

According to our research, a lack of trust and management training are the two biggest barriers when discussing and managing mental health issues in the workplace – only 30% of employees believe their managers are equipped to effectively support them. However, when employers were asked the same question almost three quarters (74%) felt line managers were adequately equipped – indicating a worrying gap between employer perception and employee experience.

It is estimated that mental health problems at work cost the UK economy £35billion last year so it’s in everyone’s interests for companies to create an environment where problems can be discussed openly and honestly.

Laura Matthews, Workplace Wellbeing Consultant at Barnett Waddingham, said: “16 people in the UK take their own lives every day, to emphasise the severity, this equates to 1 person every 90 minutes. More can be done to support these people and the workplace should be the starting place.

“In a shrinking talent pool, employee benefit offerings and embedded wellbeing strategies are a great attraction and retention tool.

“However, a lot of organisations offer discounted gym membership or fruit in the office to encourage good physical health behaviours, but the same cannot be said for actions that encourage good mental health. These need to be supported and encouraged by senior leadership as well as line management in simple and meaningful ways such as encouraging employees to take a regular lunch break, an email curfew between specified out of office hours and a complete communication ban when an employee is on annual leave.  

“Employers need to help reduce the taboo surrounding mental health by ending the stigma associated with starting a conversation and supporting action to improve wellbeing. Mental Health First Aid, employee assistance programmes and awareness weeks are just a few ways organisations can promote mental health awareness in the workplace.

“Mental health is still not being taken seriously – there is a severe lack of buy-in from board level. However, this awareness week can be used as a springboard for companies to start the conversation, take action or even review and enhance what they are already doing.”