Are we making headway on mental health?

How effective are organisations in creating mentally healthy workplaces for people? Mental health awareness week is an ideal time to stand back and take the temperature. How much progress has been made, and where do we need to focus attention to improve mental well-being?

In April we published our annual Health and well-being at work report with Simplyhealth, which provides the data we need to make an evidence-based assessment. Completed by over 1,000 people professionals in organisations covering 3.2 million employees, it provides a valuable window on the world of work and the state of people’s well-being.

Encouraging signs

The findings reflect employers’ growing recognition of their critical role in improving the health of people at work, and we are encouraged that mental health is a stronger focus of organisations’ well-being activity. Most respondents (86%) report their organisation is taking some action to manage employee mental health. The top five approaches are:

  • phased return to work and/or other reasonable adjustments (61% of employers)
  • increasing awareness of mental health issues across the workforce (60%)
  • offering an employee assistance programme (54%)
  • access to a counseling service (48%)
  • training managers to support staff with mental health (40%).

The findings show a small improvement on last year with more organisations training staff to build personal resilience and having mental health/well-being champions.

Key challenges remain

Overall, nearly three-fifths have seen an increase in the number of reported common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, among employees in the last 12 months. An increasing proportion of organisations include mental ill health among their main causes of short- and long-term absence, with mental ill health the main cause of long-term absence. These findings show what a significant priority mental well-being should be for employers.

Although most organisations are taking some action to manage employee mental health at work, just half of respondents believe their organisation is effective at supporting staff with mental ill health or that it actively promotes good mental well-being. Just two-fifths agree that staff are well informed about organisational support for mental health and even fewer agree that staff are well informed about mental health risks and symptoms.

More concerted management action is needed

Our findings show that just under a third of organisations agree that senior leaders encourage a focus on mental well-being through their actions and behaviour. Just two-fifths provide managers with the training needed to support staff with mental ill health, although again this is a positive increase on previous years.

Respondents are significantly more likely to disagree than agree that managers are confident to have sensitive discussions and signpost staff to expert sources of help if needed, or that they are able to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health.

Those organisations that do provide training are more likely to agree that managers have the skills and confidence to support mental health, but it is still a minority who do so. This highlights the importance of evaluating training initiatives to maximise their effectiveness as well as ensuring that managers have fully bought in to the importance of well-being.

We need to call out the role of leadership in ensuring that employee well-being is taken seriously at an operational level and integrated into line manager training and guidance. Leaders and managers are important role models in fostering healthy behaviour at work, and our findings underline how harmful the impact can be if managers aren’t equipped with the competence and confidence to go about their people management role in the right way – management style is the second main cause of stress-related absence, for example.

Employers can introduce a suite of exemplary well-being policies and make a serious investment in employee health, but if their activity is not rooted in how people are managed, a supportive and inclusive culture and committed leadership, it will not have real impact.

Useful resources

There are a number of free resources available to help organisations develop a mental health framework and provide guidance for line managers. These include:

  • the CIPD’s Top tips for managers to help their teams thrive
  • the CIPD’s Mental health in the workplace factsheet
  • joint CIPD and Mind guidance, the People managers’ guide to mental health – with practical advice and templates to help managers facilitate conversations about stress and mental ill health
  • Society of Occupational Medicine: Mental health and the workplace, A Guide for line managers
  • Mental Health at Work, an online gateway to resources, training and information that aims to change the way we approach workplace mental health. It’s funded by The Royal Foundation with Heads Together and developed by Mind and 11 key programme partners from the world of business and mental health, including the CIPD. 

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