The mental wellbeing support employers are providing their workforce is missing the mark
We are experiencing a significant step change when it comes to mental wellbeing at work across a myriad of industries. From construction, utilities, retail and financial organisations to charities, educational establishments and the emergency services, all are pledging to do more to support their workforce.
In fact, the Bupa Global Executive Wellbeing Index for 2022 placed employee mental health and wellbeing as the top priority for 47% of global business this year. Around half of organisations questioned expected to see a rise in the amount they spend on providing support and, again, around half plan to increase the number of roles with a responsibility for mental wellbeing in their organisation.
On the surface, this is welcome news. But dig a little deeper and a slightly different story is unfolding: the mental wellbeing support employers are providing is simply failing to resonate with employee needs. It’s clear that investment in mental wellbeing is missing the mark.
A report published by Kooth Work highlights that 60% of employees agree, to some extent, that their mental health is important to their company. However, a staggering 82% do not believe enough is being done. In fact, in 40% of cases, employees were unaware of the support available to them, suggesting that employers are paying for support that no-one knows exists. This lack of awareness, along with the stigma often associated with asking for help, could also explain why less than half (43%) would choose to access mental wellbeing support at work and a mere 5% of respondents had used employee assistance programs (EAPs).
So why is workplace mental wellbeing support falling short?
With an abundance of options on the market, it can be difficult for organisations to know what the ‘right choice’ is; there simply isn’t a one size fits all solution when it comes to workplace mental wellbeing. Like the individual employees they are supporting, each organisation has its unique mental health risks and experiences that require a personalised approach.
It’s crucial that organisations do not take on new wellbeing initiatives, services and support, without first understanding where to focus their efforts. To apply a solution without understanding the problem equates to a serious mismatch and loss of investment. In fact, 42% of respondents stated that they are under-served by the support options available to them, and over half are calling for UK employers to do more to identify, understand, and meet their needs. As a result, UK organisations are experiencing increasing absenteeism, presenteeism and staff churn.
Well-intentioned actions from employers don’t always correlate to well-supported employees. In order for them to bridge this mental wellbeing gap and start offering support that is in tune with the needs of employees, organisations must first learn about what their workforces are experiencing, how they are feeling, as well as what they need. They need to be prepared to listen and take action.
Exploring the factors influencing mental health goes beyond the – even virtual – office walls.
Mental health is holistic – it is therefore vital for employers to acknowledge and understand that employees are individual and complex. So much so that it is impossible to compartmentalise mental health around working hours.
With this in mind, an organisation must have an understanding of the mental health risks both in and out of the workplace. By gaining a clear insight of the risks, as well as having visibility into the needs and wants of a workforce, an organisation is better placed to tailor effective and personalised support.
When it comes to the workplace, Kooth Work’s research found that 37% of respondents showed moderate to high levels of burnout, with half displaying signs of being at risk of depression. Well over half (62%) are reporting some level of anxiety and, worryingly, almost three-quarters (72%) say they always work or work most of the time while they’re unwell. Added to this, over two-thirds of employees had experienced discrimination in the workplace, which has negatively impacted their mental health.
These are sobering statistics, which also carry a warning that some workers will progress into more acute areas of need.
Added to this are the personal life factors that play a role in an employee’s mental wellbeing. This could include financial stress or hardship, a history of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) or negative experiences with family relationships and grief, for example. The strong interconnection between employee mental health and home life cannot be ignored if organisations are to implement effective employee mental wellbeing support.
Employees are calling out for more – and better aligned – options such digital platforms, support groups, in-person support, and private healthcare.
When asked what specific tools employees would find most helpful, the Kooth Work study highlights that employees want easy access to help, not generic and opaque systems. They prefer a mix of solutions – both in-person and virtual – that more accurately reflect their need for accessibility (29%), flexibility and convenience (49%). Crucially, almost three-quarters (71%) of employees feel that anonymity and confidentiality are most important when it comes to accessing mental health support.
Employees also don’t want waiting lists (51%), thresholds to qualify for support, or a fixed number of counselling sessions. And with 62% wanting support to be free, it is clear that employees certainly don’t want to have to pay to get the extra help they feel they need.
Perhaps most importantly, employees are looking for anonymity from their workplace mental wellbeing support. They want to be able to talk about any concerns they have or issues they are facing without judgement and stigma. With this in mind, they would prefer access to support that is delivered by mental wellbeing professionals.
Organisations cannot rest on their laurels, it’s time to understand the mental wellbeing issues of employees before presenting the solution.
If employers are serious about supporting the mental wellbeing of their employees and making it a number one priority, they must truly understand their workforce. Only then will we see the investment in effective mental wellbeing support that truly helps both employees and organisations flourish, thrive and grow.
To read the full findings in Kooth Work’s “Missing the Mark” report and learn more about how it can support organisations with their employee mental wellbeing support visit: https://work.kooth.com/missing-the-mark-flourish-findings-report