Mental health issues at work up in past five years, finds CIPD study

The number of people saying they have experienced mental health issues while in employment has shot up from a quarter to one-third in the past five years, according to HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The poll of more than 2,000 people also found a majority did not feel they were being supported well enough by their employer, while 46% felt they had been supported “very” or “fairly” well.

The one positive finding was that the 46% figure was a significant improvement on the 37% reported in a similar survey back in 2011, said the CIPD. But it also indicated progress remains slow and many employers still have some way to go.

Just four out of 10 (44%) staff said they would feel confident disclosing unmanageable stress or mental health problems to their current employer or manager, unchanged on the 2011 findings.

In total, just under one-third (31%) said they have experienced a mental health problem at some point during their working life, compared with slightly more than a quarter (26%) in 2011.

Of those who had experienced poor mental health at work, 42% had experienced a problem in the past 12 months to the extent it had affected their health and wellbeing, the poll added.

The survey also gauged what types of support employers tended to provide to manage and help people with mental health problems.

The most common provisions were phased return to work (offered to 32% of employees), access to flexible working arrangements (30%), access to occupational health services (27%), and access to counselling services (27%).

The least common provisions were mental health first-aiders (3%), mental health champions (5%), and training for line managers in managing and supporting people with mental health problems (10%).

The CIPD has recommended three relatively straightforward changes line managers can make to help the situation. These are:

  • At the beginning of a new working relationship, be clear that no problem is too big, small or personal for an employee to raise.
  • Work to create a culture of openness and encourage staff to discuss their challenges. Make time to have conversations that go beyond a person’s immediate and short-term workload, and discuss their role, responsibilities and opportunities more generally.
  • Know when and how to direct employees to access specialist help, either internally through the organisation, such as counselling and/or occupational health services, or externally via mental health groups and charities.

Rachel Suff, CIPD employment relations adviser, said: “This agenda needs to be championed from the very top by business leaders and senior staff – either through role-modelling or open conversations about their own experiences.

“There is also a clear role for HR professionals and line managers to ensure that employees are getting the support they need and feel they can speak up.”

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