Staff are uncomfortable talking to their boss about stress, study finds

14 May 2018 By Maggie Baska

Further research warns of lack of manager training and problems with management style

Less than a sixth (14 per cent) of workers feel comfortable speaking to their manager about their stress levels, a comprehensive survey published today has found.

The study of 4,619 people – which was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Mental Health Foundation in partnership with Mental Health First Aid England for Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) – also revealed that a quarter (25 per cent) of millennials and almost one in five (18 per cent) baby boomers believe they compromise their health to do their job.  

“In recent years, huge steps have been taken to improve mental health awareness across society, including in the workplace,” said Jaan Madan, workplace lead at Mental Health First Aid England. “However, today’s research shows that more needs to be done to translate this awareness into action… Coping with stress in the workplace starts with being able to have a conversation with your manager, and in a mentally healthy organisation everyone should feel comfortable talking about stress.”

Meanwhile, in separate research also published today by Business in the Community, the majority (84 per cent) of managers acknowledged that employee wellbeing was their responsibility, but less than a quarter (24 per cent) said they had received any training on the matter.

And research from the CIPD showed that issues with workload were the top cause of stress at work, followed by management style. The CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Wellbeing at Work report also revealed that mental ill-health was now the main cause of long-term absence in more than a fifth of UK organisations (22 per cent) and that stress-related absence had increased over the last year in more than a third (37 per cent) of businesses. 

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said training and guidance on engaging with employees on mental wellbeing was crucial for line managers. “Our research finds that organisations with managers who are able to effectively promote good mental health are less likely to have seen an increase in reported common mental health conditions, which shows how crucial that capability is,” she said. 

In another study published today by Cascade HR, four out of five of 540 UK participants polled described stress as ‘a way of life’, while two-thirds (67 per cent) said they had felt stressed at work for a week or more at some point in the last year. 

However, three-quarters (77 per cent) of workers said the support of an effective manager helped with their management of stress and mental wellbeing.

“The statistics suggest that stress looms large for the British workforce, which – as a country of employers – is something we need to address,” said Oliver Shaw, chief executive at Cascade.

Meanwhile, research carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies on behalf of manufacturers’ organisation EEF and Westfield Health found that 80 per cent of businesses believe investing in wellbeing measures will lead to improved productivity. 

Steve Jackson, director of health, safety and sustainability at EEF, said companies might benefit from recognising opportunities to promote wider wellbeing. “Giving employees support and a positive psychosocial work environment has a proven impact on productivity and means that employees embrace the challenges of work with more energy and commitment,” he said. 

However, although many organisations see productivity as a reason to invest in wellbeing measures, fewer than a third of businesses invest in healthy living programmes, despite previous evidence that employees in good health can be up to three times more productive. 

The study also revealed that only one in five companies used mental health first aid training and other well-known interventions. 

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