Nine in 10 workers affected by mental health, new research finds

HRH The Duke of Cambridge encourages HR to be ‘a door people feel they can go and see’ to talk about mental health

Almost nine in 10 workers are affected by mental health in some capacity, according to a new survey.

The survey of 2,170 workers by consultancy firm Accenture found two-thirds (66 per cent) had personally experienced mental ill-health, and that 85 per cent had someone close to them, such as a family member or close colleague, who had experienced mental health challenges.

The results were announced yesterday at workplace mental health conference This Can Happen, attended by HRH The Duke of Cambridge.

Of the respondents who reported they spoke to someone at work about their mental health,  three-fifths (61 per cent) confided in a close colleague and 39 per cent chose their line manager as their first point of contact, whereas less than a fifth (15 per cent) said they talked to HR or a wellbeing specialist.

Speaking to delegates at the event, Barbara Harvey, managing director of Accenture Research, said the results showed “very clearly that many workers are still afraid to open up about their mental health challenges in the workplace”.

“When people do open up, they are most likely to talk to a colleague – not to a line manager or HR professional,” she said. “Of course it’s very important that line managers and HR professionals are aware of what goes on and are mental-health aware, but it’s actually a colleague that you are most likely to turn to in the workplace.”

The Duke – an active campaigner on mental health issues – encouraged more business leaders to speak up and share their experiences of mental health challenges at work.

“It’s about setting a culture and environment in the workplace where HR is a door people feel they can go and see,” he said. “If the heart is right in the workplace, then the blood flows around the rest of the business and body correctly. That’s really crucial, and we all play a part in this.” 

The research also found more than half (57 per cent) of those surveyed said hiding mental health challenges at work had a negative impact on their wellbeing, including feeling stressed, more alone or being less productive. 

The majority (81 per cent) said they had a positive reaction from the first person they told at work, but just under half (44 per cent) said it was “a relief” to be open about their mental wellbeing.

Meanwhile, a separate study by consultancy Barnett Waddingham found workers on lower salaries felt less comfortable talking to their employer about mental health. 

The research, which comes just days after business leaders called on Theresa May to prioritise mental health in the workplace, found only two in five (40 per cent) workers earning between £20k and £30k per year would be happy talking about mental health at work, compared to half (50 per cent) of employees earning £50k to £60k, and over two-thirds (67 per cent) of those earning £70k to £75k.

Laura Matthews, Barnett Waddingham’s workplace wellbeing consultant, said the research showed mental health “still feels like a taboo subject for employees”, especially those on lower salaries “who are most vulnerable if they lose their income”. 

“This isn’t good enough if businesses are serious about supporting their workforce,” Matthews said. “Line managers and senior management have a huge part to play when it comes to addressing this, and it’s crucial they receive the right training, adopt effective management styles and make conscious efforts to communicate with employees on a personal level and keep morale high.”