Fewer than half of organisations deal with employee mental health effectively

27 July 2018 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

A new study has revealed that while almost all employers agree that a happy worker is a productive worker, fewer than half of organisations feel they deal with mental health issues effectively in the workplace. The news comes as a separate survey found that only around half of UK employers actively offered help with depression, among other disorders.

The prevalence of mental illnesses in the UK remains high, with as many as one in every four individuals in Britain suffering at least one episode of some variety throughout their lives. Currently, around 8% of the population is in a state of depression – prescriptions for depression were up 46% to 57 million last year. While having a mental illness can be debilitating, negatively affecting one’s own projects as well those of others, the stigmas that society continues to project onto mental health problems are an additional barrier to recovery faced by sufferers.

In order to combat this, a number of firms have ushered in pioneering initiatives, with the professional services industry pulling together to combat the dreaded “burn-out” that has plagued the industry’s staff retention ability for decades, among other issues. This includes efforts from Grant Thornton, which signed 'Time to Change' pledge to end mental health discrimination in 2017, alongside Capita, which began providing stress reducing programmes to its clients. Unfortunately, however, much work remains to be done across the rest of the market, despite an almost universal acceptance of the importance of employee happiness among bosses.

Fully functioning and delivering real benefits

A massive 97% of business decision makers told this year’s Barnett Waddingham’s Wellbeing Agenda report that they believe employee happiness leads to higher productivity. The questionnaire conducted by OnePoll on behalf of independent actuarial, administration and consulting firm Barnett Waddingham questioned 200 HR decision makers from UK organisations, and also found that 67% of respondents think that employee wellbeing is very important to their organisation.

In terms of wellbeing strategies to address this, a 30% portion organisations with a strategy in place feel it is not achieving its full potential. As a result, some of these employers are revisiting what they have been doing, and making improvements to ensure the strategy is fit for purpose. To this end, Barnett Waddingham’s study highlights two major areas where performance could be improved.

What are your priorities within your wellbeing strategy?

Importantly, a further 79% of organisations cited mental health as a priority, and this was reflected in the portion of companies with a wellbeing strategy in place, 89% of whom include mental health as an aspect of that plan. This contrasts with a mere 2% who have no plans to include mental health in their strategy, placing the issue at the forefront of wellbeing, ahead of work life balance (86%) and financial wellbeing (only 48% focus on this, disregarding links between work stress and financial pressures). Despite this perceived importance of mental health, however, fewer than half of respondents felt they were already dealing with mental health effectively, at 47%.

According to the analysis from Barnett Waddingham, the inability of employers to tackle mental health at work could be due to the aforementioned downplaying of financial matters. With stagnant pay making it harder to make ends meet for many people, who are subsequently struggling financially despite being employed, financial education is bottom of the list of wellbeing priorities, with fewer than half of organisations including it in their overall strategy and a further quarter having no plans to include it in the near future. This reveals a sharp disconnect between workers and their employers, as another recent report by Barnett Waddingham highlighted that 56% of employees think financial education should be provided in the workplace.

Do you know the financial cost of absence for your organisation?

The study meanwhile found that 77% of respondents who are planning to build a wellbeing strategy in the near future would like to be able to calculate the cost of absence – suggesting that they don’t know, or are unsure how to. In the general sample, meanwhile, only 33% of respondents said they know the cost of absence to their company. This inability to measure the levels of certain forms of absence has likely bled into firms’ reluctance to address financial wellbeing in terms of mental health and productivity at work, as partially at least, they may simply be unaware of how large an issue it is.

Commenting on the findings, Laura Matthews, a Workplace Wellbeing Consultant at Barnett Waddingham, said, “The mental health landscape has changed so much it is almost unrecognisable. However, despite the positive themes running through these findings, 22% of organisations still don’t see mental health as a priority. For it to be taken more seriously, employers need to understand the impact it can have on a business as well as the individual. Employers need to understand their employees and this need to be driven by insights and data. Alongside equipping line managers with the right training and knowledge, a resource such as the HSE Stress Risk Assessment gives a clear framework to address stress or mental health.”