While two in five employers (40 per cent) see mental health as a strategic issue closely tied to productivity and profitability, wellbeing is not top of the agenda for most companies, a study has found.
SilverCloud’s new Making Mental Health Top of the Agenda report, conducted with 1,000 employees and 500 directors, showed that only one third (31 per cent) of organisations have boosted their wellbeing spend since the pandemic began.
This was despite half of workers feeling overwhelmed (50 per cent), burnt out (48 per cent) and depressed (35 per cent) over the past six months.
Amid the recent crises, Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at Partners&, said that the impact of three “seismic economic events” (Covid, Brexit, and high inflation) is undoubtedly restricting the amount of money employers have available to add any new mental health support services – “which is unfortunate given that mental health continues to be a high priority for many employers and employees alike”.
In addition, less than a third (28 per cent) of workers said their employer was providing enough support for their mental wellbeing, and 50 per cent actively wanted to see more, while a third (33 per cent) had never once been asked about their mental health at work.
Commenting on the reasons behind this gap in mental health offering, Dannielle Haig, business psychologist at DH Coaching and Consulting, said that the idea of taking care of employees’ mental wellbeing is relatively new: “Successful businesses would actively look after their technical equipment without consideration, however, looking after their human brains which are fundamental “equipment” for many businesses isn’t seen as a good investment.”
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Another element which might be impacting the situation, Haig said, is people’s worries that asking for mental health support will have adverse effects on their careers. “This is a natural fear, especially if you’re worried about losing your job anyway and or have financial worries,” she said.
Define mental wellbeing and get board level buy in
For this reason, Dr Lucy Shoolbred, co-founder and director of Working Mindset, said that
“creating awareness of what mental ill health is – as research shows people still don’t actually know what depression or anxiety actually is – would also help break down stigma and model the organisation’s commitment to create a psychological safe workplace”.
In addition, the research proposed that a key strategy to putting wellbeing and mental health front and centre is to involve the board as they have the weight and authority to “set ambitious objectives” and “drive real change”.
Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School, agreed, adding that progress on improving the gender pay gap only took off when it became an issue for the board; when they had to collect the data and publish it.
“That changed everything, and in my view the same thing has to apply with employee mental health and wellbeing,” Cooper added.
In the meantime, the research found that environmental, social and governance (ESG) is closely linked to wellbeing, as 75 per cent of companies with such a strategy have included mental health and wellbeing under this umbrella.
Managers ‘out of their depth’
Another study from Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA), recently revealed that while three quarters (74 per cent) of managers were concerned about their teams’ mental health due to the cost of living crisis, a third (33 per cent) reported feeling out of their depth when supporting teammates through mental health issues.
Acknowledging the impact of the cost of living on employee mental health, Herbert said:
“There is still no one silver bullet for employers to combat the very wide range of mental health challenges that employees may face. There are of course some very useful tools – including mental health apps and counselling available as part of private medical insurance, medical cash plans, and even employee assistance programmes (EAPs), which can provide some support”.
MHFA England’s findings come at a time when mental health first aid training is gaining public traction. Conservative MP Dean Russell proposed a new bill in the House of Commons that would make it a legal requirement for businesses to offer mental health first aid training.
The bill, which was proposed in hopes to help more people spot early signs of mental health issues in the workplace, will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 24 February as part of its journey to becoming law.