COVID-19 has really plunged mental health into the spotlight.
While many employers have stepped up and focused more on employee wellbeing, research by insurer Lime Global has found that only 16% of UK staff feel their employer is doing a very good of supporting them with their mental health.
This is despite 81% stating employers should step up to support mental wellbeing and 42% expecting employers to do more.
Instead of progress in breaking the taboo around mental health at work, Lime’s study found there was a culture of so-called ‘pleasanteeism’ with 51% of the more than 2,000 UK workers surveyed saying they had felt pressure to put on a brave face at work.
This is because 36% don’t think their employer provides enough support, 14% worry their employer wouldn’t be sympathetic or understanding and 10% think expressing problems could harm their career prospects.
Talking about this finding, Sheena McDermott, acting head of leadership and management programs at Be the Business, wrote: “People are scared of the discrimination that they might face if they admit weakness.
“They fear that people may feel that they’re not up to the job, or that they won’t be given interesting projects if they seem too stressed to take on additional work.”
This is particularly concerning given that 40% of employees feel that their resilience has worsened during the pandemic, and this is directly affecting their work.
This increases for women and younger employees; 43% of 16- to 24-year-olds said they are not coping at work, and 56% of women (compared to 45% of men) feel they have to put on a brave face in front of their colleagues.
While 44% said that low personal resilience impacted their effectiveness at work, 28% found that stress and mental health caused them to have unproductive days, 17% were making mistakes and 9% were forced to call in sick because of a decline in mental health.
Another concerning statistic is that 40% said they would consider quitting their job if their employer didn’t do more to support employees.
Employers must step up
So what can employers do to prevent this exodus of talent and better support employees going through a hard time?
Lime Global CEO and founder Shaun Williams stated: “The past 18 months has had a huge impact on people’s lives, including on their mental health and resilience.
“The long-term repercussions of the pandemic are likely to be felt for years to come, and it’s important we act now to be aware of and prioritize both our own mental health and that of those around us.”
“We know that employers have a lot on their plates and each workforce will require unique approaches for tackling mental health challenges. But there are plenty of simple and affordable avenues for doing so.
It’s only by drawing attention to and prioritizing mental health in the workplace that we can support one another to be as healthy, resilient, happy and productive as possible.”
The report found that being mindful about workload and work-life balance (25%), flexibility in working hours (22%), allowing time out to deal with personal commitments (20%) and mental health days off work (20%) were all important to those surveyed.
McDermott concluded: “Every company wants to talk about how supportive they are, but that doesn’t mean that the stigma around mental health has disappeared, or that individuals will be less concerned about exposing their vulnerabilities.
“It takes a lot more than a LinkedIn post about company culture to break down entrenched barriers. It takes real change.”