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Managers underequipped and unsupported to respond to mental health in work, finds report

Employers across the UK are failing to provide adequate support to employees or equip managers with the skills to help them. More than three quarters (77%) of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health in their lives, and for 62% of employees, work has been a contributing factor to poor mental health. Despite this, over half of employees (56%) who disclosed symptoms of poor mental health said that their employer took no mitigating actions and only 22% of managers have had relevant mental health training at work.

These are some of the findings from the Mental Health at Work report released today by the charity Business in the Community. The report shares findings from a national survey undertaken with research partner YouGov that heard from nearly 20,000 people in work across the UK.

The report finds bosses are disconnected from the reality of employee experiences. 60% of board members believe their organisation supports people with mental ill health and 97% of senior managers believe that they are accessible if employees want to talk about mental health. However, 63% of managers believe that they are obliged to put the interests of their organisation above the wellbeing of team members, and 49% of employees would not talk to their manager about a mental health issue. 

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community, said, “Millions of employees are suffering in silence and feel unable to share their experiences at work. When they do reach out, many are met with an inadequate response.

“Our findings show that we need more openness, more training and information, and more support for employees and managers. This is why we are asking employers to take three steps – Talk, Train and Take Action.”

Managers do want to help - 76% believe that staff wellbeing is their responsibility, yet 80% say organisational barriers prevent them from delivering on this. The result is that default responses to supporting employees with poor mental health are time off work and a job change, both of which go against what employees want and best practice. 

Aston added “It is good that mental wellbeing is on the radar for leaders and managers, but this is still not translating into the right workplace cultures or adequate support for employees experiencing poor mental health. Employers must accept the scale of mental ill health in the workplace and start taking a preventative approach now. This means getting the work culture right in the first place so that they promote good work and work life-balance. Progress will only happen when employers approach mental ill health as they would physical ill health – doing what they can to prevent ill health occurring or escalating, and ensuring proper support for employees when it happens. Employees must feel that the workplace is supportive of, rather than, detrimental to their mental health.”

The report also finds that:

  • In the last month alone, nearly a quarter of all of employees (24%) experienced symptoms of poor mental health where work was a contributing factor.
  • When experiencing their most recent symptoms of poor mental health, just 11% of employees discussed this with their line manager, and only 25% felt able to talk to someone at work (such as a colleague, line manager or HR) at all.
  • One third of line managers felt that senior managers and HR departments had either been not very or not at all supportive when they were managing someone with poor mental health.
  • Organisational barriers cited by line managers include lack of adequate training (32%), insufficient time for one-to-one meetings (26%), and having to focus on performance targets (22%).
  • Two fifths (40%) of line managers are not confident in responding to symptoms such as panic attacks, depression and mood swings, compared to stress (77%).
  • The fear of interfering or not knowing what to do prevents the bulk of the workforce (86%) from approaching a colleague they are concerned about.
  • Structured support systems and HR are under-utilised by employees. 23% of employees have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), but just 2% of employees used the EAP during their most recent symptoms of poor mental health and fewer than 2% went to HR to talk about their mental health.
  • Younger workers are more likely to experience symptoms of poor mental health but feel less confident than older workers about discussing it with their manager. 43% of 18-29 year olds who have experienced these symptoms said the most recent episode was in the past month, compared to 29% of 50-59 year olds. Fewer than half (46%) of younger employees would be confident to tell their manager about a mental health problem, compared to 58% of those aged over 60.
  • Male managers are less confident than female managers in responding to poor mental health, yet are less enthusiastic about mental health training.

Business in the Community is calling for employers to:

  1. Talk: break the culture of silence that surrounds mental health by taking the Time to Change Employer’s Pledge.
  2. Train: invest in basic mental health literacy for all employees and first aid training in mental health to support line manager capability.
  3. Take Action: Close the gap by asking all staff their experiences in order to identify the disconnects that exist in the organisation.

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

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