Talk it over | Bosses see rise in workplace conversations about mental health

Bosses see rise in workplace conversations about mental health

Nearly half of UK bosses have seen an increase in workplace mental health issues in the past year, a new study reveals.

The findings from Peninsula Group could explain why wellbeing has become a much bigger talking point, with 43% of employers stating that they’ve witnessed people talking more about their mental health in the last 12 months.

However only 12% of employees have confided in their bosses, and one in seven of those who did speak to their boss said that nothing was done.

A quarter of survey respondents say they have noticed an increase sick leave due to mental health but, despite that, 90% of businesses do not offer mental health days to employees.

And while 94% of employers said they’re available to help staff who are struggling with mental health concerns, the data suggests that the support being offered by employers doesn’t match up with what employees want or need.

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Two thirds of employers said they are confident their employees would talk to them and disclose mental health concerns, but less than 10% of bosses said that they are comfortable discussing their own personal mental health.

The survey of 79,000 businesses across four countries – Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the UK – was conducted by Peninsula Group, a global employment law, HR and health & safety advisory and consultancy firm, to take a mental health temperature check and see if increased financial pressures and the cost-of-living crisis are having an impact on the mental health of the workforce.

Other key findings include:

  • Employers in Canada and Australia are more likely to take time off work due to mental health than those in the UK or Ireland.

  • More than two-thirds of bosses in all four countries are comfortable discussing employees’ mental health concerns.

  • 46% of UK employers have seen an increase in the number of people in their workplace experiencing issues with mental health.

  • Canadian employers are more likely to offer mental health days in addition to personal leave entitlement than any other. 23% already offer them with another 15% planning to introduce them within the next 12 months.

  • In comparison, 85% of employers in the UK, 81% in Ireland and 67% in Australia do not offer mental health days or plan to introduce them in the next 12 months.

  • Ireland is seeing an increase in the number of people taking time off work to care for family members with mental health issues; it was the only one of the four countries surveyed where this ranked in the top three answers.

Peninsula Group Chief Operations Officer Alan Price said: “With 17 million working days being lost in the UK due to work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2021/22, it should be clear to any employer that mental health is an area they need to take very seriously. And that message seems to be getting through.

“Healthy employees make for a healthy workplace, so it’s encouraging that so many employers are comfortable having conversations around both their own and their employees’ mental health. We’ve all seen the drastic impact that recent world events have had with many struggling to adapt to the ‘new normal’ - and business owners, especially SME’s, are no different. Many are under pressure like never before, and the cost-of-living crisis and rising energy costs are having a significant impact on employers and employees alike.”

Price went on: “People are speaking more openly about their mental health and prioritising work/life balance. It is, however, interesting to see such low uptake of EAP services from employers who have themselves experienced mental health issues over the last 12 months. Most overwhelmingly chose to speak to friends and family; use of the company EAP did not come in the top 3 responses in any of the four companies.

“So, while employers are offering this support to employees, they should also remember that the service is there to support everyone – regardless of seniority within an organisation.

“We can also see an element of robustness within the survey responses, with more than half of Irish employers reportedly seeing no increase in the number of people experiencing mental health issues in their workplace. 44% of Canadian and Australian employers have also seen no increase, whilst only 38% of UK employers can say the same.

“It’s clear that there is still significant work to be done in this area, but the willingness of people to speak about mental health concerns and a change in workplace attitude towards them certainly major steps in the right direction.”

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