Wellness | 40% of employees struggle discussing mental health at work

40% of employees struggle discussing mental health at work

New research from Breathe has revealed that 40% of employees are uncomfortable telling managers that they need time off to deal with mental health.

According to the ‘Sick Report 2019: the state of health and wellbeing in British SMEs’ which surveyed over 1,500 employees, 23% of employees admitted that they would rather have an unexplained absence than discuss mental health issued with their employer. And this is costing the UK economy £1.4billion annually.

Additionally, the research found that although 53% of SME decision-makers took no sick leave last year and of the portion that did, 14% of absences were due to stress and mental health.

Jonathan Richards, CEO at Breathe, commented: “Running a business is one of the most challenging things someone can do and our research shows mental health issues are prevalent at Board level too. This makes it all the more important for SMEs to focus on its company culture by prioritising employee health and well-being, this means leading from the front and practising what you preach. After all, employee and boardroom burnout is not conducive to business success.”

How many people experience mental health?

Additional research by Protectivity has found that one in seven people experience mental health challenges at work, with evidence indicating that 13% of all UK sick days can be attributed to mental health.

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The study, which polled over 1,000 Brits, revealed that just 18% of workers would be confident talking to colleagues about their mental health. The research delved into the cities and industries which need to become more open when discussing mental health.

Which cities are the most and least confident talking about mental health at work?

The research identified Edinburgh as the most confident city when discussing workplace mental health (32%). On the other end of the scale, the research found that workers in Leeds were four times less likely to feel comfortable talking to counterparts about their mental health. Additionally, in London just 19% of employees felt confident talking to colleagues about mental health challenges.

Which industries are the most confident talking about mental health?

The research found that HR workers were the most likely to feel confident talking about mental health (36%), with the arts and culture industries ranking in second position. However, the least confident industries included those in sales, media and marketing professions where just eight per cent felt confident talking to employees. So, what have employers implemented?

HEINEKEN UK’s Race to the Tower challenge

Jane Brydon, HR Director at HEINEKEN UK told HR Grapevine that in 2017 they launched Race to the Tower. She explained that the concept behind the event ties into one of the firm’s core values: ‘enjoyment of life’. Encouraging employees to keep physically fit, happy and healthy means a lot to HEINEKEN UK, Brydon explained. “Race to the Tower is one of the many things that we do to support that. It also helps raise awareness of the link between mental and physical health which plays a big part in our agenda.

“It’s a fundraising event in aid of the charity Mind and it’s always a success – hundreds of Heineken colleagues have taken part. They then come back in and tell their stories internally. To date we have raised £84,000 so it’s a real company-wide effort and we are now in year three.”

With mental health playing an important part of the agenda at HEINEKEN UK, Brydon explained that this isn’t the only initiative they have launched to support the cause. “In 2017, we signed the Time to Change pledge, which is a public declaration to our colleagues of our ongoing commitment to end the stigma around any form of mental health.” As a company, their ambition is to make the conversation around mental health as easy as having a conversation about a sore arm. Tying into their continued commitment to the Time to Change pledge, HEINEKEN UK has recruited 31 mental health champions who are on hand for colleagues to voice challenges to.

“We also offer our employee assistance programme, which is available to colleagues 24/7 - 365 days a year – it’s an independent supplier and its completely confidential and provides a wide range of online support and specialist counselling services. It creates that environment where colleagues can have a conversation, either with a mental health champion or a people manager, and that is hugely important.”

Support doesn’t have to cost a lot

While HEINEKEN is a global brand with an impressive headcount and undoubtedly a larger budget to support the implementation of initiatives, Brydon said that support mechanisms for employees don’t have to cost a lot. She explained that HEINEKEN UK has created little fact sheets that help managers when having a 1-2-1. “That’s everything from how to have a good 1-2-1, how to ask the right questions, how to give feedback, how you go about discussing getting enough sleep or rest and how to get a good work-life balance. This helps managers have that conversation more confidently.”

Another initiative that HEINEKEN UK has rolled out is ‘Take Ten’: encouraging employees to take ten minutes out of work and sit down with colleagues to ask if they’re okay. “Colleague to colleague support is definitely most powerful and in some instances, money wise, it hasn’t cost us anything to do,” Brydon concluded.

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