Three quarters of professionals who feel they may have a problem are reluctant to make use of mental health support provided by their employers, as highlighted in the findings of our 'Mental Health in the Workplace' survey of 1,100 UK based employees.
The state of mental health in UK workplaces
The Mental Health Foundation is dedicated to ‘finding and addressing the sources of mental health problems’. Every year in May, they host Mental Health Awareness Week which aims to raise awareness of the issues we are all susceptible to experiencing.
Whatever your profession and level of seniority, the stress of work can take its toll on everyone. This said, it affects some significantly more than it does others. It’s important that companies offer support to their staff at all times, especially when they may be struggling with their mental health at work.
In the lead up to Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, we conducted an anonymous survey in order to gauge the current state of active professionals’ mental health across the UK. We did this so we could compile results and present valuable insights to employers on how they can improve the mental health of their workforces. Over 1,100 professionals from varying levels of seniority and different sectors across the UK completed the survey - the findings are outlined below.
Professionals’ perceptions of their own mental health
When looking at the overall findings 21% of respondents described their current state of mental health as ‘formally diagnosed with an issue’, 20% claim to be ‘struggling but not diagnosed’, 29% ‘think they may have an issue’, whilst 26% aren’t struggling at all and ‘doing great’.
Broken down by sector, the amount of formally diagnosed professionals working within Financial Services was the lowest (17%), then Commerce & Industry (22%) which was closely followed by Professional Services (23%) as the highest. Considering the reputation Financial Services has for being the most stressful industry, this is somewhat surprising - that is until we look at the figures for ‘struggling but not diagnosed’: 21% of Financial Services respondents fell into this category, higher than both Professional Services (17%) and Commerce & Industry (20%).
This suggests professionals within Financial Services are perhaps more reluctant to seek help and speak to someone out of fear of being diagnosed. This is likely to do with the historical stigma that having a mental health issue is considered a ‘weakness’ and the fact that there is a lack of understanding when it comes to the causes, prevention methods and treatments. If there are overt examples of individuals with a formally diagnosed illness being mistreated, it is classed as mental health discrimination in the workplace and under the Equality Act 2010, that individual has the right to challenge their employer.
Merely a quarter of organisations have dedicated mental health policies
Despite the surge in raised awareness over recent years, it seems that many employers still aren’t doing enough to provide their workforces with help. Over a third of respondents claimed their employer either doesn’t offer any formal mental health support (39%) and a further third are unaware if any support is available (34%) - this left a comparatively slender 27% as the figure for organisations that have dedicated mental health initiatives in place.
Considering this across the different sectors, it seems that Financial Services firms are doing the most to try and offer support - 35% of Financial Services respondents stated their employer offers formal support, followed by Professional Services (27%) and C&I (25%). On the surface, this appears positive for reducing the stigma of ‘not opening up’ in the workplace but when subsequently asked whether they make use of the support, the figures are damning: 66% of respondents from Professional Services, 74% of those from Financial Services and 80% from Commerce & Industry answered ‘no’. It seems the old saying ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ is fitting in this instance.
This is discouraging, as some organisations are actively trying to help, but their staff aren’t making the most of the support on offer. To make it worse, of the 39% who answered their employers don’t offer support across all sectors, 54% believe they would benefit if some form of support was available; those in need of help don’t have access to it, which will likely exacerbate their issues. Once again, this goes back to the point of workers feeling they need to keep their condition private as they have fears that it will negatively affect their employment opportunities. But just why are so many professionals still so hesitant to make use of the support on offer?
With all the publicity that mental health awareness is receiving and the steps being taken by some organisations, it is unsurprising that wider attitudes to discussing issues and being more open about them in the office are becoming more positive: Almost three quarters of respondents (73%) think it is good to talk about mental health in the workplace. Creating this comfortable feeling of being able to talk about disorders will make employees happier, confident and ultimately more productive.
Professionals perceive productivity to be inhibited by mental health issues
It is in the best interest of organisations to ensure they are doing as much as possible to improve the mental health of their employees - having programmes in place is a useful attraction and retention tool, it can help create a happy and positive office culture, and ultimately, staff with less of a burden from mental health issues are likely to be more productive.
This last point was echoed in our findings as only 2% of the total 1,100 respondents believe productivity at work is unaffected when an individual is struggling with their mental health. The most frequently chosen answer suggests that an individual who is struggling with issues only works at 41-60% capacity. This sentiment is relatively consistent across the Financial Services, Professional Services and Commerce & Industry sectors.
Stress related illness can be developed in the workplace
As previously mentioned, work life is often considered as one of the primary causes of mental health issues due to the high levels of stress and consistent expectation to perform well. But this said, it is naive to think that once an individual leaves the office for the day the burden is completely lifted.
This was highlighted in our survey results - when asked whether mental health was better at home or work or neither, of the 1,100 respondents, 39% responded ‘neither’. More than anything this highlights that, whilst the effort employers are going to is excellent, more needs to be done on a much greater scale.
“The attitudes of society must continue to improve.”
Progress has been made, but the increasing awareness must gain more momentum
In the past, little was done by employers to help their staff, partly because they didn’t want to admit the issue was quite so prevalent and also because there was less visibility on the issues as employees would cover up their conditions out of fear of being marginalised. Thankfully, attitudes have changed for the better and there is an increasing level of action being taken. In particular, law firms have been making a significant effort to raise awareness of mental health within their organisations.
The raised awareness of mental health at work hasn’t gone unnoticed; the government has committed to reforming the Mental Health Act in order to transform mental health care and reduce the existing disparity in the UK’s mental health services.
Addressing mental health illness is a complex social issue, with numerous different aspects contributing, but it has also become a prevalent business issue as well. For adults, the workplace is the location where they spend most of their time and therefore addressing mental health wellbeing at work is the most appropriate place to start. Both the Financial and Professional Services sectors have historically been known for stressful working environments, and it is clear that there is still a level of negative stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health in the workplace in these industries.
The fundamental foundations are in place at a lot of organisations, but more needs to be done to improve individuals’ confidence about being able to discuss their mental health issues at work and getting the help they require.