UK employees remain uncomfortable discussing mental health at work

Aviva study reveals only 5% of employees would speak with their colleagues in HR

According to a recent survey by Aviva, just 10% of UK employees who have experienced certain mental health conditions sought help from their line managers over the past year.

The findings, released in support of Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, shed light on the persistent discomfort surrounding mental health conversations in the workplace.

The study highlighted that only 14% of employees surveyed would feel comfortable discussing their mental health with a work colleague. In comparison,e a mere 5% would turn to colleagues in HR or a wellbeing officer for support.

The figures show minor changes compared to a previous Aviva research in February 2020, indicating a lack of significant progress in employee attitudes towards mental health over the past few years.

Workplace support

Sophie Money, wellbeing manager at Aviva, acknowledged the transformative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employee and employer experiences, making it intriguing that attitudes have not shifted more drastically.

She said: “It is likely that many participants of this research had varying experiences of their own and colleagues’ mental health during this period, so it is interesting that we have not seen greater changes in attitudes over this time.”

The study also exposed a significant disconnect between employee and employer perceptions regarding the availability of adequate mental health support in the workplace. While 79% of employers agreed they are proficient in recognising when team members are under pressure, only 44% of employees believed their line managers possessed the same ability.

Managers falling short

Although this gap had narrowed slightly compared to 2020, when just 37% of employees agreed, it remains evident that employees continue to have less confidence in their managers’ ability to identify mental health challenges.

Moreover, the research indicated a decline in employee concern for colleagues with mental health conditions, with 71% stating they made an effort to help, down from 76% in 2020. Additionally, scepticism regarding colleagues’ mental health struggles has worsened, as 8% of respondents expressed doubt about whether their colleagues genuinely faced such issues, up from 5% in 2020.

In terms of perceptions surrounding stigma reduction, the study found that only 59% of employees and 49% of employers believed that the stigma towards mental health had decreased, a decrease from the 74% reported by both employees and employers in 2020.

Mental Health Toolkit

As part of their commitment to reducing stigma and fostering informed conversations, Aviva launched the Mental Health Toolkit for Line Managers in September 2021. This toolkit, available to Group Protection and Health clients, comprises clinician-designed video modules and supporting content to empower line managers to identify warning signs of poor mental health, engage in supportive conversations, and proactively address mental health concerns.

Since its launch, the toolkit has garnered more than 3,600 views, signalling an increasing number of managers recognising the significance of addressing mental health in the workplace and ensuring their employees receive timely support. Building upon the positive reception of the toolkit for line managers, Aviva released employee mental health videos in September 2022.

Commenting on the findings, Sophie Money expressed cautious optimism, stating: “It’s good to see an improvement in the number of people seeking support. The change may be small, but it’s a start and, hopefully,y an indication that employees are more aware of the support available to them.”

Money also emphasised the crucial role of employers in creating an environment where employees can be themselves and have confidence in receiving the necessary support. Aviva hopes that the tools they have provided will continue supporting this journey towards mental health awareness and acceptance in the workplace.

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