UK bosses failing to support stressed staff

09 October 2019 3 min. read

While 39% UK workers experienced symptoms of poor mental health related to work in the last year, bosses are struggling to deal with the issue. While a majority of staff say work-related pressure had damaged their mental health, many feel unsupported, while just 5% of employees say they receive financial support in the workplace, despite a quarter of workers saying low pay was a major cause of their stress.

The prevalence of mental illnesses in the UK remains high, with one in four individuals currently suffering at least one episode of some variety throughout their lives. With mental health ailments reaching all-time highs among the UK workforce, companies will need to take radical new approaches to maintain the wellbeing of their workforce, or risk dire consequences for their business and reputation.

Earlier in the year, a report from Mercer painted a problematic picture of British business leaders on the topic of mental health. While they were willing to talk a good game, the evidence suggested that they are ultimately still pressuring their middle hierarchies to chase profits at all costs in the short-term, and failing to remove structural imperatives that make them view staff with mental health issues as “a problem”, rather than fellow staff to be supported.

Employees who have experienced poor mental health where work was a contributing factor

Now, Mercer has further illustrated the lack of progress on the matter with its annual report on mental health in collaboration with Business in the Community and the BITC Wellbeing Leadership Team. According to the study, two in five UK workers experienced symptoms of poor mental health related to work in the last year. A majority of 62% meanwhile stated they had done so at some point in their career, rising drastically from 20% in Mercer’s 2017 study.

When asked what were the key factors behind this upward spike in work-related mental health issues, workers painted a clear picture of a corporate culture in Britain that expects more for less. A majority of 52% of those polled said they felt work-related pressure had damaged their mental health, with many saddled with a rising number of priorities or targets. Around a third of respondents followed this up by stating they were required to work overtime to meet targets, and felt they could not take leave.

Which, if any, best describe the specific issues that caused mental health symptoms in work?The same number added that they did not receive support in their role, and felt they could not trust managers if they spoke about this. At the same time, while organisational change was said to be poorly handled, placing more responsibilities and pressure on staff, roughly a quarter said being underpaid was straining their mental wellbeing. With inflation on the cost of living and stagnating wages meaning the majority of workers are worse off in real terms than before the 2008 financial crisis, it is not especially surprising that this would be cited by employees as draining their morale.

Commenting on the findings, Tony Wood, Partner and UK Managing Director at Mercer Marsh Benefits, said, “Financial wellbeing continues to be a huge problem. There is a fine line in the disparity between what the employee wants and what the employer offers in the area of support. Employers either aren’t offering financial advice or support isn’t accessible or visible enough in the workplace. Only 5% of employees say they receive financial support in the workplace, but whether this is reality or perceived reality due to lack of promotion, is interesting for employers to consider.”