Half of UK employees uncomfortable discussing mental health at work, survey reveals

More staff are also taking days off for their psychological wellbeing despite an increases in firms investing in training and support

Nearly half of UK employees would fear being honest about their mental health in the workplace because they worry it could harm their career, a survey has found.

The poll of 6,386 workers, conducted by MHR, found 47 per cent said they would feel uncomfortable talking about mental health issues with their employer for this reason.

At the same time, the research found there had been a 16 per cent increase in the number of employees taking days off work because of mental health issues.

More than a third of those polled this year (35 per cent) said they had taken time off because of their mental health, compared to just 31 per cent of those surveyed in 2020.

This is despite the proportion of organisations offering mental health first aid training increasing by 26 per cent over the same period, which MHR said suggested that investment and training towards supporting employees’ mental health was not having the desired impact.

Jeanette Wheeler, HR director at MHR, said that while it was positive to see employers providing training, the stigma around mental health was still “very much present in the work environment.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

“Individuals that recognise they need time off to look after their wellbeing should not feel threatened to admit the truth to their employer,” she said. “These findings should urge business leaders to re-evaluate their approaches to mental health.”

Wheeler added that creating safe spaces in the workplace for conversations around mental health was “more than just company-wide training”. “It comes down to the culture of an organisation,” she said.

Commenting on World Mental Health Day over the weekend, Jamie Mackenzie, director at Sodexo Engage, said the pandemic had increased many people’s levels of stress and anxiety, and employers needed to be mindful that some of their workforce would need more time to adjust than others.

“Leaders and managers need to be compassionate, lead with empathy, understand their people’s challenges, and work to help them through these tough times,” he said, suggesting that employers could help their staff by providing access to professional help through an employee assistance programme and offering paid days off for mental health.

“It’s important to still treat this as a time of transition and give employees the time and space needed to adjust to this new world. Most of all, it’s vital that businesses do all they can to reassure their people that they are supported and cared about, and that they don’t feel a pressure to please,” said Mackenzie.