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Healthy attitudes to mental health in the workplace

Achieving a good work/life balance and reducing financial concerns where possible can have a huge impact upon the mental wellbeing of both employers and employees. This is a big reason Salary Finance partners with employers to offer financial wellbeing benefits that help employees live healthier, happier lives.


Putting people and their wellbeing first, both in this way and in others, is important. To find out just how important it is, we decided to look at mental health in the workplace to find out more.


What the research told us

We found that 72% of Brits have experienced mental health issues in the past, to some degree.


Anxiety tops the 10 issues that many UK residents have, with 38% most likely to have experienced anxiety-related symptoms. This is closely followed by stress (35%) and depression (31%). Just under a quarter of Brits (24%) have sleep problems and loneliness (16%) is the fifth mental health-related problem that we’re most likely to have suffered with.


Panic attacks affect 15%, self-esteem 14%, and 8% are impacted by an eating disorder. Paranoia affects 7% and OCD is the 10th issue on the list, with 6% most likely to have suffered with this.

Mental health at work

Given the number of people impacted by poor mental health, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Brits are having to take time off work because of mental health issues. On average, we took 2.1 days off in 2018. In addition, last year we spent 12.1 days at work while struggling with issues related to poor mental health.


However, while these numbers show that people are experiencing difficulties, there is a move towards help in the workplace. According to our poll, over half (57%) of line managers and HR professionals have received training through their employer on how to assist employees with mental health concerns.


Procedures that have been put in place to help staff cope with stress in the workplace range from wellbeing workshops and confidential counselling services, through to offerings including yoga and free fruit.


Natalie Holt, Chartered Occupational Psychologist at Shadow Coach, said: “More and more companies are running campaigns that encourage employees to open up about mental health. I have witnessed some ‘lunch and learn’ sessions where colleagues will talk about their experiences and share how they have overcome challenges.”


Encouragingly, 43% of those asked also noticed an increase in the number of colleagues who are coming to HR with mental health issues in recent years. Natalie added: “Many serious mental health problems can be avoided before the impact is too great just by having someone to talk to. It’s a cliché but talking really is the best therapy and making it abundantly clear that there will be no detrimental consequences of talking about how you feel is imperative.”


The things we are happy to reveal at work

While steps are being taken towards creating a dialogue in many workplaces, only 47% feel they can be honest with their line manager about their mental health, and just over a quarter (26%) would lie to their line manager about their mental health.


The most common excuses would be:


  • Sickness (32%)
  • Cold / flu (25%)
  • Stomach ache (10%)

This shows that we are still feeling uncomfortable about discussing our mental wellbeing with our boss. In fact, we found that people feel more comfortable talking about a stomach illness than mental health!


For those that do feel they can open up about their mental health, the issues discussed tend to be more commonly associated with work, for example stress and anxiety, than those that are not, like eating disorders. However, although mental health isn’t an easy topic to talk to our line managers about, we prefer to open up about this more than our sexual health and periods.


Withholding Information

Over half (59%) of Brits haven’t been open about their mental health with their line manager. As the earlier stats about how many days are spent with us struggling at work reveal, most workers feel uncomfortable talking about mental health in the workplace, and do not want to tell anybody that they are finding things tough.


However, while 10% feel worried that opening up might hold them back in their career, a quarter of workers feel supported and trust that their line manager would help them with a problem. Almost half (41%) have been open and honest with their line managers about their mental health before.


When they did explain to their manager, the majority (68%) of line managers and companies responded well and supported the employee. The remaining 32% had a somewhat negative response, from either their line manager, company, or both – so there’s still a way to go in order to educate companies about how to handle mental health.


Who is saying what about mental health?

Overall, men are more likely than women to take time off work due to poor mental health, with 2.4 days away from the workplace compared with 1.8 days for women. Similarly, women are more likely to go into work even though they are finding it difficult, struggling through 12.8 days compared with men’s 11.2 days.


Young people are taking the most days off, with the 18 to 24 age bracket away from work for 4.7 days. Those aged 35 to 44 are most likely to have encountered issues in the past, while 55 to 64-year-olds are least likely.


However, 55 to 64-year-olds are most likely to be worried that being open about mental health issues will hold them back in their career. Brits aged 65 and over are least likely to lie about the reason behind their mental health issues and most likely to be honest with their line manager.


Where are we?

It’s interesting to look at how our mental wellbeing varies across the UK. In Glasgow, we’ve had the most mental health-related days off work (3.5), while people in Southampton took the least (0.2) off.


In Norwich, OCD, self-harm and stress are the main mental health-related problems affecting residents in the city and Nottingham had the highest number of people affected by anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings.


Which sectors are most affected?

Some issues seem to be associated with the world of work. However, it seems, based on the research, that different sectors are most likely to be affected by certain types of mental health issues.


Recruitment and HR and those working in the media and internet are the sectors more likely to suffer from mental health issues. Those working in energy and utilities, meanwhile, are the least likely to be affected.


Recruitment and HR and creative arts and design, for example, saw the joint highest levels of stress (67%), while the creative arts also saw the highest levels of uncontrollable anger (17%). It appears those in this sector who are affected by these issues are being open about the problems they face though, as they are the least likely sector to lie to their line manager if they’re struggling.


Those in law enforcement and security, on the other hand, are inclined to keep things to themselves. They’re the most likely group to lie if they’re finding things tough.


Information technology saw the most days taken off work due to poor mental health (10.8%) and environment and agriculture saw the highest levels of respondents affected by loneliness (50%) and SAD (25%).


The science and pharmaceuticals sector revealed a series of extremes. While it was the lowest for loneliness, it scored highest for panic attacks. Also, this was the industry that saw no sick days taken at all for poor mental health – the lowest of all the sectors – while also being the one that saw employees being least likely to be open with their line manager about any mental health concerns.


However, it is social care that has the highest numbers overall. A huge 80% for anxiety and depression in this sector. Employees working in this industry are among those most likely to suffer from mental health issues.


The impact of our job role

The level we work at also seems to influence our mental wellbeing. Entry level, semi-skilled and unskilled workers took an average of 2.4 days off work in 2018 because of mental health problems, while supervisors took the least days off (1.6). Yet, supervisors are more likely to lie about the issues they are facing.


Those who are employed as financial controllers or similar function heads are most affected by stress, eating disorders or psychosis. Senior function heads, such as group financial controllers, are more likely to be honest about their mental health. These senior employees are also most inclined towards psychosis, depression, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.


Higher up the hierarchy, the survey revealed that senior directors are likely to suffer with anxiety, stress and unrollable anger. This job level also saw the most days taken off work due to poor mental health (21.5). Conversely, chief executives took much less time off for their mental wellbeing last year (2.8 days).


The importance of a culture of openness in the workplace

Ultimately, being open in the workplace is so important. These findings further reinforce the need for our financial wellbeing products and reveal that it’s services like these that can help companies.


While there are positives to take away, such as the progress made in training professionals to recognise the signs when staff are struggling, our results reveal how many people are keeping their mental wellbeing to themselves.


Creating an open environment in which employees feel they can be frank about their feelings can go a long way towards making them happier at work – and ensuring they’re happy can boot positivity and have a knock-on effect when it comes to productivity in the workplace. Following the advice offered by MIND gives employers the opportunity to take the steps towards creating a workplace of honesty when it comes to mental health.

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