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Are employers sleepwalking into the next pandemic: mental health?

There’s been a lot of research into the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the workforce. And findings appear consistent regarding a degradation in mental health for vast swathes of working people. 

However, most of the research suggests that poor mental health in the workplace is nothing new. Workers have been struggling with anxiety, stress, and depression for years.

You’re probably unsurprised to read this. Most of us – at some stage – have experienced poor mental health due to the demands of our jobs. Perhaps, it’s just that – in the past – we didn’t have a voice. 

Well, now we do. 

In this article, we will explore how employers have changed their approach to mental health in the workplace (and how some haven’t). There are some positives, but most of those are overwhelmed by the shocking statistics that suggest that change is not happening quickly enough.

Get ready for some sobering reading. 

Mental health remains a low priority for employers

Despite the impact of COVID on working lives, Koa Health – a North American healthcare provider – discovered that a shocking 43% of employers still consider the mental health of their workforce a low priority. 

However, on the other hand:

The same research identified that 63% of US organisations noted an increase in demand for mental health services and support. 

And, HR managers across the board identified that demand for mental health support had increased by 35%. 

The research highlighted that, as a result of increased need due to the pandemic, HR professionals had:

  • increased support for mental health issues by 78%
  • planned to augment the levels of mental health support in the next 12 months by 73%
  • while 66% of HR professionals who took part in the research believed that 

So, bearing in mind that mental health has very much come to the fore, why are so many employers failing in their duty of care?

Mental health remains a taboo in the workplace

You might think that the increased need for mental health support (as identified by HR professionals) might indicate a changing cultural shift in attitudes. But heads remain buried deep in the sand. 

Priory Group explored how likely employees were to report mental health issues to their employers. 71% of the workers surveyed said they did not feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their employer. The reasons for their reluctance were varied, but this statistic demonstrates that mental health remains a taboo in professional environments of all kinds. 

Over half of the organisations that took part in Koa Health’s research still consider physical health more important than mental health, offering incentives in the guise of gym memberships and wearables. Less than half provide therapy apps or subsidised (or free) therapy. 

Half of all sick days are attributable to mental health

In 2019/2020, more than half of the working days lost to illness in the UK were attributable to mental ill-health. So, indeed, this is a trend that only the most stubborn can deny. 

Let’s explore some more figures. According to ioshmagazine.com

  • 17.9 million sick days were attributable to mental ill-health
  • 111 workers were killed or fatally injured in 2019/2020
  • 828,000 workers self-reported stress, depression, or anxiety as the cause of their work absence

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) claim that 38.8 million days were lost in the UK due to poor mental health in 2019/2020. 

Whichever set of statistics you choose to acknowledge, can we realistically continue to deny the reality that’s in plain sight?

Is the business community sleepwalking into a pandemic of poor mental health?

Denying the impact of poor mental health in the workplace is folly. And employers who fail to consider mental health as an indicator of worker sentiment surely have to change. 

Many organisations offer Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), which provide mental health services at subsidised or free rates for all employees. However, most EAPs are underused, and there’s scant evidence that employees actually glean any valuable, lasting benefit from company EAPs.  

EAPs tend to provide counselling services and talking therapies, but the tokenistic nature of most workplace programs are failing to deliver lasting results. 

So, this leaves workers unsupported. It seems that the next pandemic is likely to be one of poor mental health.

SupportRoom’s Employee Support Platform

There’s a burgeoning recognition driving a need to support workers. And this is why we set up SupportRoom’s Employee Support Platform and our Workplace Counselling and Therapy for SMEs programmes.  

We recognised that most employees get little value from existing EAPs. And we identified that most EAPs fail to deliver meaningful feedback to employers that can help them address the needs of their employees.  

SupportRoom’s workplace solutions are designed for organisations of all sizes, from multinational corporations to Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). We have devised a flexible and affordable platform that provides instant messaging therapy support for employees while offering meaningful, anonymised diagnostic data to employers to help them gauge sentiment in the workplace. 

Our solution has been developed with scale in mind – accessible by the smallest companies and manageable for the most prominent organisations. 

The Mental Health at Work Commitment

You might be looking for ways to improve ill mental health in your organisation. 

You can start by committing to the Mental Health at Work campaign, offering resources and tools to help instigate better mental health initiatives in all business environments. 

Find out more about it at mentalhealthatwork.org.uk

Get in touch

We hope that this article encourages more organisations to explore how they can better support their workforce in the workplace and avoid the potential disaster of an epidemic of poor mental health. 

We’d love to hear from you, and we’d love to help develop systems that could improve the lives of your workforce.