Mental health a boardroom priority for majority of employers, research finds

Wellbeing strategies now ‘mainstream’ among businesses, as concerns remain over effects of highly pressurised environments

Mental health a boardroom priority for majority of employers, research finds

Wellbeing has transitioned from a niche benefit to a mainstream strategic concern for businesses, according to a new report.

A survey of health, wellbeing and HR specialists found more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of organisations now have a strategy in place for monitoring employee wellbeing – more than double the 30 per cent with a strategy when the report was first launched in 2016.

The poll also found a significant increase in employers offering specific mental health support. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of respondents said mental health was now the number one wellbeing priority in their boardroom, and 46 per cent reported having a dedicated mental health strategy in place in 2019, up from 16 per cent in 2018. 

The results are part of the Reward & Employee Benefits Association’s (REBA) latest annual Employee Wellbeing Survey, in partnership with AXA PPP Healthcare, which surveyed 250 wellbeing, HR and employee benefits specialists.

The report suggests that if the creation of wellbeing strategies continues at its current rate, the number of employers without a wellbeing strategy could be as low as 17 per cent by 2020, and such strategies could be universal for employers early in the next decade.

Debi O’Donovan, director of REBA, said the results showed how wellbeing, and in particular mental health, had risen quickly up the corporate agenda as more employers now cited stress and overwork as problems for their business.

She said organisations recognised a poor culture and working environment could lead to “staff churn, lower productivity, poor motivation and engagement as well as both mental and physical harm”. 

“The problem will only be dealt with by a change of culture led from the top and through all managers,” O’Donovan added. “Team leaders [need to demonstrate] healthy behaviours of leaving work on time, being seen to take proper breaks, managing teams fairly and with respect, as well as linking wellbeing to personal development training and performance reviews.” 

But despite the data suggesting a rise in wellbeing strategies, the survey found there were still barriers facing organisations.

Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of employers admitted high-pressure work environments were the biggest threat to employee wellbeing – the same percentage as in 2018. And while there has been an increased focus on supporting mental health at a strategic level, the report said employers continued to be concerned about the amount of pressure staff were under at work.

It said the root causes of poor mental health at work were not yet being fully addressed by managers, and also suggested commitment from senior managers outside the boardroom was vital for making wellbeing strategies compelling – with 72 per cent of senior managers reporting being committed to the wellbeing agenda.

A combination of top-down support from other senior managers and commitment from employees reinforced a strong culture of wellbeing across businesses, it said. 

The report echoed the findings of the CIPD’s latest UK Working Lives Survey, which showed an epidemic of long hours, high stress and poor work-life balance was undermining attempts to improve job quality among UK employers. 

The CIPD research uncovered evidence of high levels of work intensity and pressure, which were both linked to increased stress among UK employees. More than one in five (22 per cent) employees said they often or always felt exhausted at work, and the same number said they were under excessive pressure.

Rachel Suff, senior relations adviser at the CIPD, said organisations needed to get to grips with the prevalence of high-pressured working environments by developing strategies that aligned with their wider corporate strategy. 

“This will help to ensure that employee wellbeing is prioritised and embedded as part of the organisation’s day-to-day operations,” Suff said. “It also means HR professionals can align health and wellbeing support across people management policies and will encourage managers to take health and wellbeing seriously.”