A mental health stand-off
The workplace wellbeing stalemate between employers and employees.
Despite widespread wellbeing initiatives, employees still say stigma, stress and a culture of silence around mental health are holding them back from speaking out in the workplace.
The findings came in the Benenden Health 2022 Mental Health Report, which surveyed 1,000 employees and more than 1,000 employers. The results showed not only a deterioration in mental wellbeing but a growing number of reasons why many employees feel unable to speak out. The most staggering statistic of all is that, since we last surveyed employees and employers in our 2020 report, the fear employees have that they might lose their job if they speak out about mental health has risen by 1,100%.
On top of general work-related stress, workload worries, the menopause and even workplace bullying, the top worry is the ‘cost of living’ crisis, which 77% of employees surveyed said has affected their wellbeing.
Two wrongs won’t make it right
Alarmingly, while the number of employees struggling with their mental health – even leaving work because of it – is on the rise, so too is the reluctance to speak to employers or managers due to fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’. This has also been cited as the main reason employers are too scared to approach the same issue with their employees. This means, for some businesses, the resulting stalemate has led to a culture of silence.
The last few years have been tough for everyone. Covid-19 has had a major impact on working practices. Since the 2020 report, 15% of employers now rate mental wellbeing as a top priority (up from 11%) but there has been a 6% decrease in the number of employers who say they genuinely care about their employees’ mental health. Whether you fall into one of these camps or somewhere in between, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is not an issue you can ignore.
Well-meaning versus wellbeing
Results from the 1,000+ employers surveyed were encouraging, with 92% saying they believe mental health is as important as physical health, 81% saying they would be comfortable having mental health discussions with their employees and 59% claiming to understand the legal requirements surrounding mental wellbeing.
Yet, there is a clear disconnect with these numbers compared to the 1,000 employees surveyed. Employees were 10% less comfortable discussing their mental wellbeing than employers, and HR was cited as the least-trusted source for those seeking mental health support (although the likelihood of speaking to friends, family or a GP had risen).
Bridging the gap between employers and a workplace that genuinely cares about the wellbeing of its employees is the main goal. Not only will your workforce be happier, your business will be more attractive to prospective employees. In fact, 66% of employees agreed that a good mental health policy would make them more likely to join a company.
No, you go first
In 2017, Benenden Health reported a ‘tick box’ approach to mental wellbeing in the workplace, implementing policies but with no real commitment. Although that has been improving in each survey since, the improvement is slow. In the most recent report, only 38% of employees believe that mental wellbeing is at the heart of the business they work for. Likewise, 56% say they simply want to feel their mental wellbeing is cared about.
From the employers’ point of view, 60% say they already provide mental health training to their line managers, 63% say they have asked their employees what they would like to see from the company in terms of support and 59% offer a mental wellbeing policy. Yet, 8% say the policy is disregarded by employees and 32% don’t offer one at all.
If employers are too scared to speak to employees and employees are too scared to speak to employers, who makes the move?
Everybody’s not talking about it
When it comes to mental wellbeing in the workplace, you’re only saying the wrong thing if you’re not talking about it at all. If you already have a health and wellbeing policy in place, mental health first aiders and/or training programmes; let your employees know about them. Use communal areas, staff newsletters and your company social media to champion mental health and wellbeing.
Showing support for World Menopause Day, making staff aware of financial advisors available to them and putting up posters for mental health helplines all help to spread the message that conversations about mental health are not only welcome, but encouraged.
Encourage feedback from your employees. Even if you feel you are already doing enough, the change that the employees need to see must come from the top. Being more open and honest in the workplace doesn’t always have to be centered around mental wellbeing. If line managers and team supervisors are more receptive to staff in general, employees will start to trust more. Hopefully this trust will lead to tackling those more difficult conversations.
This time it’s personnel
Lack of care for your employees’ wellbeing cannot be forced on a personal level. From a professional standpoint, aside from the legal responsibility employers have for their workforce, a supportive culture at work – free from stigma – is something that Benenden Health believes every company should strive for.
In either case, the benefits that private healthcare membership offers employees not only demonstrates an employer’s commitment to their workforce and workplace, they also provide 24/7 access to services such as mental health and GP helplines, health app and hub, plus rewards and discounts across lifestyle and fitness brands.
It’s essential for employers to be mindful of their own mental health too. It can be very difficult to talk to other people about their own mental health if you are struggling with your own wellbeing. Business can be tough at the best of times, but many companies have changed beyond recognition in the last few years, don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help if you need it.