United Kingdom

Mental health getting worse research finds

August 2015


Staff mental health is ‘getting worse’ new research reveals, despite increased efforts to reduce stigma and implement workplace health initiatives.

According to a People Management survey conducted last month, which uncovered the worrying trend in the prevalence of mental health problems along the working population, 43 per cent of HR respondents said the ‘overall level’ of employees mental health had deteriorated over the last two years. Whilst 15 per cent cited an improvement in mental health levels, just over half said the number of working days lost to mental health-related absence had increased.

Commenting on the research, CIPD research adviser Dr. Jill Miller said the findings were unexpected and confirmed that the results from the annual CIPD Absence Management Survey supported the latest figures. According to CIPD figures, there has been a clear rise in reported mental ill-health since 2010.

As 45 per cent of HR respondents to the People Management survey said that there were more conversations about mental health than previously, there has been speculation that the findings relate to an increased willingness to talk more openly. Yet experts like Miller agree that efforts to address workplace mental health issues are simply not working.

Charles Alberts, Senior Employee Benefits Consultant at Aon Employee Benefits is concerned that such a large number of HR respondents cited a deterioration in the overall level of employees’ mental health, at a time when more focus is being placed on improving mental health in the workplace than ever before.

“This could be due to a number of factors, including greater awareness and improved reporting,” he said. “but also continued uncertainty in a number of sectors (such as oil & gas) and increased demands on employees and management as businesses look to return to previous levels of profitability.”

Of workplace initiatives to tackle mental health-related absence:

  • 95 per cent said their organisation offered phased return to work approaches
  • 88 per cent offered work assessments
  • 87 per cent provided support through occupational health.

Miller said: “Organisations might provide good wellbeing benefits, but employees might not know about them or be aware how to access them. When it comes to counselling for example, it can be difficult to ask about it.”

Miller warned that fundamental issues impacting on mental health are still being ignored, such as job design, development opportunities and workload (a number one cause of workplace stress). In addition, presenteeism still remains relatively high.

The findings come as NICE publishes new guidance on workplace wellbeing which gives more responsibility to senior management to ‘lead by example’ and help create a healthy and positive workplace.

“This is the most significant outcome of the NICE research,” Alberts said. “NICE have outlined how organisations can support line managers to ensure they are equipped with the necessary skills to positively influence wellbeing: they ultimately propose line management should be held accountable for their role in wellbeing through the recruitment process, job descriptions and goal setting.”

And although the CIPD research indicates that employee mental health continues to be an issue, Alberts remains encouraged at the large numbers of organisations who are attempting to tackle the problem through a number of health and wellbeing initiatives.

“It supports our view that improving mental health in the workplace requires a holistic and strategic approach, driven from the top of organisations. This ultimately ensures that a focus on employee wellbeing becomes part of organisational culture,” he said.

Both Alberts and Miller emphasise the importance of organisations focusing on the cause, not just the symptoms of the problem by addressing the fundamental issues impacting workplace mental health.

“Frequently, we are met with the view that the traditional approach of offering a health club subsidy, mini health checks and access to an Employee Assistance Programme is what constitutes a wellbeing programme – these statistics are a sign that we need to take an honest look at how effective strategies have been and how the true issues can be targeted,” Alberts continued.

“But what remains clear is for workplace wellbeing strategies (in particular mental health) to be effective, all stakeholders need to be engaged and a multi-faceted approach should be taken,” he added.



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