Employers are still failing to do enough to support employee mental ill health, especially as the cost of living crisis bites, multiple studies have concluded, as World Mental Health Day is marked around the globe (Monday 10 October).
A survey by HR and payroll firm MHR, for example, has argued more than six out of employees (62%) believe their employer “does not care” about their mental wellbeing. More than half (55%) also said they still felt pressured to hide their mental health concerns at work.
When asked what triggered the most stress during the cost of living crisis, rising bills came in as the top factor (46%), followed by 29% pointing to spiralling energy costs.
More than a third (34%) said their employer providing financial support would help their mental wellbeing more than simply offering flexibility, improved workloads or enhanced benefits.
A report from Adecco Group has also argued that quarter of all UK workers say their mental health has worsened over the past 12 months.
Four in ten admitted to having suffering from burnout in the past 12 months from working too hard, with only 15% of those polled saying they had taken a sick leave day to preserve their mental health.
The ongoing mental health impact of the cost of living crisis has also been highlighted in research by credit management company Lowell.
More than a quarter (27%) of UK workers surveyed did not have the ability to save money because of their financial situation and more than one in five (22%) admitted to suffering from mental health difficulties directly caused by money as a result. A further fifth (21%) said they were losing sleep because of finance-related stress.
Highlighting best practice
Various organisations and academics have used World Mental Health Day to highlight best practice around mental health support provision.
For example, Nicholas Clarke, professor of organisational behaviour and human resource management at Kent Business School, has emphasised why workplace wellbeing support is important.
Cost of living and health
“Although many organisations have increased their range of initiatives to improve employee mental health, a major obstacle is that there is still much we need to do in furthering our understanding of the efficacy of interventions and developing a more holistic perspective on mental health and wellbeing,” he said.
“We need to change to a more preventative approach to reduce the likelihood of mental illness than has traditionally been the case. This requires a ‘whole-systems’ approach which recognises that aspects of the workplace, such as having control of one’s work, workloads, employee voice, feeling valued, recognition, career development and purposiveness also affect employee wellbeing and mental health.
“Good leadership and line management are key not just to the implementation of wellbeing initiatives but are important factors affecting wellbeing in their own right. Action to improve mental health in the workplace must start with ensuring line managers have the necessary skills to hold conversations about mental health and stress, and know where to direct their staff for further assistance,” professor Clarke added.
Health provider Towergate Health & Protection has urged employers to use World Mental Health Day to revisit the mental health support they offer, including ensuring it is fit for purpose and, in an increasingly globalised working world, is taking into account global cultural differences.
Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate, said: “The market is flooded with potential support that employers can offer their staff, from EAPs to in-patient psychiatric care, and it can be confusing for employers to know what to offer. We would urge employers not to take the first thing they’re offered or simply follow the current trend: if it’s not right for their staff, it won’t provide the support their staff need.
Companies need to understand their particular workforce demographic, their mental resilience, and what mental health risks they face. They need to ask employees what they might be struggling with and what help they need.” – Debra Clark, Towergate Health & Protection
“The starting point must be to talk to staff. Companies need to understand their particular workforce demographic, their mental resilience, and what mental health risks they face. They need to ask employees what they might be struggling with and what help they need. In our experience this often throws up many surprises.
“This then enables companies to offer tailored, personalised support that’s actually going to make a difference. Without going through this process, companies need to accept that any support they offer may not be fit for purpose, and the mental wellbeing of their staff may well suffer,” Clark added.
And Christine Husbands, managing director of RedArc, encouraged employers to use the day to reflect on where their mental health provision is perhaps falling short, as that can be a key way to improve implementation and delivery.
“Support must be long term. Many issues can’t be solved quickly, and people can be left high and dry if there no suitable therapy available and no specialist support offered,” she advised.
“Those looking to implement support need to be aware of any exclusions in what they want to offer. We believe that no mental health condition should be excluded, everyone should be able to access support, whatever their mental health concern.
“While some may need more significant therapy, which may be available from other areas such as via private healthcare, many more will need to use the NHS. It’s equally important that while they wait, that they have specialist support in the meantime. And if they do use the NHS, that they have help in navigating it so they can get the most appropriate help for them.
“It is very positive that support for mental health is becoming more widespread, but it’s vital that it’s good-quality support. In practice we believe it needs to be comprehensive and provided by specialists; it shouldn’t be confined to a strict timeframe and it shouldn’t exclude conditions. Before mental health support is implemented, we’d urge everyone to be clear about the detail, or they may find that what they offer falls short,” Husbands adds.
Line manager training
Finally, HR as well as OH needs to be leading this agenda, especially with more effective training for line managers, according to Rob Evans, senior HR consultant at WorkNest.
“A staggering majority of 130 employers we recently spoke with had not provided any training to line managers to support employee mental health. Line managers are on the ‘frontline’ for monitoring and supporting employee wellbeing, so underinvesting in this area will be detrimental,” he said.
“If managers are equipped with the right knowledge and skills, they can spot the earliest signs of underlying mental health issues, open up better lines of communication with employees surrounding mental health, and learn the different types of support they can offer team members that need it,” Evans added.