Peter Simpson

Brand new findings from the Mental Health at Work report, sponsored by Anglian Water and produced by Business In The Community, have been released today. 

Currently, employers across the UK are failing to provide adequate support to employees or equip managers with the skills to help them. More than three quarters (77%) of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health in their lives, and for 62% of employees work has been contributing factor. Despite this, over half of employees (56%) who disclosed symptoms of poor mental health said that their employer took no mitigating actions and only 22% of managers have had relevant mental health training.

These are some of the findings from the Mental Health at Work report, which heard from nearly 20,000 people in work across the UK, will survey employees for the next three years to track progress.

In a deliberate effort to put mental wellbeing at work on the agenda, Anglian Water has led the support for a variety of mental health initiatives. Since 2013 it’s supported the Time to Talk campaign which reminds colleagues they don’t have to be an expert to talk about mental health, and in 2014, it teamed up with charity Mind as its Chief Executive, Peter Simpson, pledged to reduce the stigma and discrimination around mental health.

Simpson is also Chair of Business In the Community’s Wellbeing Taskforce. On the report's publication he said: “This survey gives us an extraordinary opportunity to highlight the unspoken reality of employee mental health, and fundamentally change the way that businesses approach mental wellbeing in the workplace.

“Work is a positive thing that should actually make us better! At Anglian Water we want people to be healthier than they would be if they weren’t working with us. There is not only a moral urgency to act on mental health; there is also a clear business case for doing so. As well as improved lives for millions more people, it means more productive, competitive and progressive businesses for the long term.

“For businesses to have real impact it’s requires clear and visible senior leadership. At Anglian Water, ultimately the responsibility stops with me, and I take an active role to send a clear message that this is how we do business. I hope that as we progress with these employee surveys over the next three years we see more and more businesses embracing wellbeing for the good of their workforce and to the credit of their business.”

The report finds bosses are disconnected from the reality of employee experiences. 60% of board members believe their organisation supports people with mental ill health and 97% of senior managers believe that they are accessible if employees want to talk about mental health. However, 63% of managers believe that they are obliged to put the interests of their organisation above the wellbeing of team members, and 49% of employees would not talk to their manager about a mental health issue.

Simpson continued: “We encourage employees to ask someone how they are, arrange to meet up for a coffee or chat or go for a walk and catch up in the fresh air. The conversation doesn’t have to be about mental health. Sometimes colleagues are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing, but our own employees who have fought and overcome mental ill health tell us that just talking about normal things can really help. There really is no reason to fear upsetting someone. Knowing someone cares and is prepared to listen makes a huge, positive difference. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to reach out with a simple text, phone call or email.

“Of course, we also recognise that occasionally people need an extra helping hand to deal with everyday life, and that’s why we provide a free, confidential 24/7 helpline service for our employees and their immediate family, with advice ranging from financial and legal matters to emotional support and counselling.”

“Millions of employees are suffering in silence and feel unable to share their experiences at work. When they do reach out, many are met with an inadequate response,” said Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director at Business in the Community. “Our findings show that we need more openness, more training and information, and more support for employees and managers. This is why we are asking employers to take three steps – Talk, Train and Take Action.”

Managers do want to help - 76% believe that staff wellbeing is their responsibility, yet 80% say organisational barriers prevent them from delivering on this. The result is that default responses to supporting employees with poor mental health are time off work and a job change, both of which go against what employees want and best practice.

Louise Aston continued: “It is good that mental wellbeing is on the radar for business leaders and senior managers, but this is still not translating into adequate support for employees experiencing poor mental health. Employers must accept the scale of mental health in the workplace and that they have a duty of care to properly support employees experiencing mental ill health as they would those with physical ill health.”

The report also finds that:
• In the last month alone, nearly a quarter of all of employees (24%) experienced symptoms of poor mental health where work was a contributing factor.
• When experiencing their most recent symptoms of poor mental health, just 11% of employees discussed this with their line manager, and only 25% felt able to talk to someone at work (such as a colleague, line manager or HR) at all.
• One third (33%) of line managers felt that senior managers and HR departments had either been not very or not at all supportive when they were managing someone with poor mental health.
• Organisational barriers cited by line managers include lack of adequate training (32%), insufficient time for one-to-one meetings (26%), and having to focus on performance targets (22%).
• Two fifths (40%) of line managers are not confident in responding to symptoms such as panic attacks, depression and mood swings, compared to stress (77%).
• The fear of interfering or not knowing what to do prevents the bulk of the workforce (86%) from approaching a colleague they are concerned about.
• Structured support systems and HR are under-utilised by employees. 23% of employees have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), but just 2% of employees used the EAP during their most recent symptoms of poor mental health and fewer than 2% went to HR to talk about their mental health.
• Younger workers are more likely to experience symptoms of poor mental health but feel less confident than older workers about discussing it with their manager. 43% of 18-29 year olds who have experienced these symptoms said the most recent episode was in the past month, compared to 29% of 50-59 year olds. Fewer than half (46%) of younger employees would be confident to tell their manager about a mental health problem, compared to 58% of those aged over 60.
• Male managers are less confident than female managers in responding to poor mental health, yet are less enthusiastic about mental health training.

BITC and Anglian Water is encouraging businesses to:
1. Talk: break the culture of silence that surrounds mental health by taking the Time to Change Employer’s Pledge.
2. Train: invest in basic mental health literacy for all employees and first aid training in mental health to support line manager capability.
3. Take Action: Close the gap by asking all staff their experiences in order to identify the disconnects in their organisations.
The Mental Health at Work report draws on findings from the National Employee Mental Wellbeing survey, sponsored by Anglian Water, National Grid and P&G, and undertaken by YouGov. It is a collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), The Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), Maudsley Learning at Work, Mental Health First Aid England, Mind and The Work Foundation, to transform workplace mental health.