Employers urged not to think of mental health as a minority issue
LONDON; Nov. 20, 2018 —Ninety percent of workers in the U.K. have been touched by mental health challenges, with two-thirds (66 percent) reporting having personally experienced mental health challenges and even more — 85 percent — saying someone close to them such as a family member, close friend or colleague had experienced them, according to results of new research from Accenture (NYSE: ACN).
The survey of more than 2,000 workers revealed that mental health issues are far more prevalent than the one in four figure that is often cited. For three out of four people (76 percent), mental health challenges — either their own or those of others — had affected their ability to enjoy life, with 30 percent reporting they are ‘occasionally, rarely, or never’ able to enjoy and take part fully in everyday life.
The findings come as the taboo that has long surrounded mental health starts to break down, as 82 percent of respondents said they are more willing to speak openly about mental health issues now than they were just a few years ago.
However, the workplace has failed to keep pace, as only one in four respondents (27 percent) said they had seen any positive change in employees speaking openly about mental health in their organizations. Just one in five reported an improvement in workplace training to help manage their own mental health (20 percent) or to help them support colleagues dealing with mental health challenges (19 percent).
“We’re used to hearing that one in four people experience mental health challenges, yet our research shows that the number of people affected is in fact far higher,” said Barbara Harvey, a managing director at Accenture and mental health lead for the company’s business in the U.K. “It’s clear that mental health is not a minority issue; it touches almost all employees and can affect their ability to perform at work and live life to the fullest.
“It’s time for employers to think differently about how they support their employees’ mental wellbeing. It’s not only about spotting the signs of declining mental health and helping employees seek treatment when needed. Employers need to take a proactive approach by creating an open, supportive work environment that enables all their people to look after their mental health and support their colleagues. The payoff is a healthier, happier organization where people feel energized and inspired to perform at their best.”
Of those who had faced a mental health challenge, the majority (61 percent) had not spoken to anyone at work about their issue. Half (51 percent) of the survey respondents felt that raising a concern about their mental health might negatively affect their career or prevent them from being promoted, and 53 percent believed that opening up about a mental health challenge at work would be perceived as a sign of weakness.
Yet hiding mental health challenges at work had a negative impact on a majority of those surveyed. More than half (57 percent) reported at least one such impact, including feeling stressed, more alone, lacking confidence, being less productive, or simply ‘feeling worse’.
Among those who had talked to someone about mental health at work, four in five (81 percent) experienced a positive reaction of empathy or kindness. Overall, employees who reported that their organization has a supportive, open culture around mental health saw reductions in stress levels, a decrease in their feelings of isolation, and an increase in confidence. Forty-four percent said it was “a relief” to be able open up; nearly one-third (31 percent) said it helped them take positive steps towards getting help. In supportive cultures employees are more likely to know how to get help (89 percent versus 62 percent) and to find it easy to talk about mental health (86 percent versus 60 percent).
Employees in supportive companies are also more motivated than those in companies seen as not supportive; they are twice as likely to say they love their jobs (66 percent versus 31 percent) and more likely to plan to stay with their employer for at least the next year (94 percent versus 81 percent).
Accenture’s research will be revealed at This Can Happen, a conference dedicated to converting mental health awareness into action and making prevention a top priority for businesses across the U.K, taking place on 20 November in London. This Can Happen was founded by Jonny Benjamin MBE, Neil Laybourn and Zoe Sinclair of Employees Matter. Jonny and Neil met by chance 10 years ago when Jonny was contemplating suicide and Neil talked Jonny down from the edge of Waterloo Bridge in London. Six years later Jonny searched for Neil and the pair joined forces to become passionate mental health campaigners.
“Despite the progress that’s been made, the stigma around talking about mental health persists”, said Neil Laybourn, mental health campaigner and co-founder of This Can Happen. “Accenture’s research shows that people continue to be fearful of opening up about mental health challenges at work, which exacerbates the issue and prevents them getting the help they need. This Can Happen is an opportunity to explore how we tackle mental health at work, with the aim of providing leadership teams with practical, workable strategies that help them to look after their staff.”
Accenture’s survey found that 61 percent of those who did speak with someone at work said that they shared their challenge first with a close colleague, highlighting the importance of ensuring that everyone in the workplace has an awareness of mental health and is able to direct colleagues to the support available. Line managers were chosen as the first point of contact by 39 percent of those who had opened up, and HR/wellbeing specialists by just 15 percent.
Accenture’s Commitment to Supporting Its Employees’ Mental Health
Accenture has a holistic health and wellbeing programme that incorporates physical and mental health and focuses on awareness and prevention. It is part of a broader programme that is designed to create a culture where employees can bring their whole self to work.
Accenture offers its employees in the U.K. numerous mental health and related programmes, including a free 24/7 confidential counselling service available to all employees through Bupa; online awareness training; access to an anonymous, professionally managed chat environment; and mindfulness and sleep improvement apps.
In addition, Accenture’s HR professionals receive special mental health training, and the company has appointed a mental health lead for each area of its business in the U.K. To encourage employees to talk about mental health and to equip people with the right skills to support colleagues in need, Accenture has also developed a Mental Health Allies programme, which includes more than 1,700 trained Mental Health Allies — representing approximately 15 percent of Accenture’s UK workforce. Each has participated in a half-day classroom-based training session to increase their understanding of mental health challenges while building confidence and skills in addressing common mental health challenges through role-playing and scenario training. This training also explores the boundaries between the responsibilities of a line manager and the role of mental health allies.