Half of employees do not feel supported to discuss their mental health at work, People Management poll finds

Exclusive research reveals there is still a long way to go to ensure workers are able to be open about their wellbeing

Credit: Akinbostanci, Appleuzr-DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

A LinkedIn poll carried out by People Management has found that half (49 per cent) of employees do not feel supported in discussing their mental health at work, with just under two in five (37 per cent) saying they do. A further 14 per cent said they were unsure. 

The poll comes after firms were accused of ‘mental health washing’ on World Mental Health Day (10 October) – a phrase meaning businesses promote its importance but do not have policies to match it.

Debra Clark, head of wellbeing at independent health adviser Towergate Health & Protection, told People Management that the “biggest barrier” to organisations doing more to support their people with mental health conditions was “the stigma that still exists”. 

She said: “This includes societal stigma and worrying that admitting to mental health issues at work will impact their ability to progress or that colleagues’ perceptions of them will change for the worse. However, it also includes self stigma – not wanting to admit to ourselves that there is a problem.”

Role modelling is “extremely important because otherwise mental health support can look like, or even become, a tick-box exercise”, she continued. “The culture of a company, demonstrated from the most senior leaders down, is critical in allowing others in the business to admit when they are perhaps struggling or need some support or additional flexibility. 

“This could be done through sharing personal stories of mental health challenges but also more subtle actions like not emailing outside of work hours, sharing with colleagues if leaving early for a yoga class or not just saying ‘I’m fine’ when someone asks how you are.” 

Additional research by Towergate Health & Protection found that just over half (54 per cent) of companies provide support for their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

It also found that 70 per cent of large corporates provide support for mental health and wellbeing, but this figure dips to half (49 per cent) for SMEs and 37 per cent for micro companies. 

Support also differs by industry, with firms in the construction industry least likely to provide mental health support (43 per cent), while employees in healthcare are most likely to have access to support (80 per cent).

Ross O’Brien, UK managing director of mental health tech firm Wysa, said companies’ ability to support workers’ mental health was not only beneficial to those individuals and the organisation, but wider society as well. “Currently the burden falls on the NHS to solve the mental health crisis. But we can see that employees are struggling more than the average population. The current delivery model is unable to cope with the scale of demand, so we need other solutions,” O’Brien said. 

“Given that these people are quite simply responsible for driving forward the health of the economy, we need to support them to be their very best, for their own wellbeing and society’s.”

A collaborative approach is needed where employers signpost and support their staff to get the help they need, he continued, adding: “HR can be that front door to recovery.”

The CIPD’s Health and wellbeing at work report can be read here