Paul Feeney is the CEO of wealth management company Quilter. On a panel with four of his peers (chief execs from Shell, Direct Line Group, Ogilvy and Jacobs) he spoke openly at the 2019 This Can Happen conference on workplace mental health and about his own struggles.

Was this a publicity stunt a delegate asked; absolutely, he replied—there’s nothing better for my reputation than going around the City telling everyone I struggle with anxiety! The one thousand strong audience laughed with him.

And Paul Feeney is not alone in facing mental health challenges. In our latest research into workplace mental health—sponsored by Olly Benzecry, Chairman and Managing Director for Accenture in the UK and Ireland and developed in partnership with This Can Happen—we again saw how mental health challenges touch us all.

By the time they are 30, 77 percent of workers in the United Kingdom will have had personal experience with mental health challenges. Almost one-half have had suicidal thoughts or feelings and younger workers are twice as likely as their more senior peers to be living with poor mental health right now.  

Having negative thoughts and feelings, difficulty sleeping and concentrating as well as avoiding friends or stressful situations were among the symptoms they described in our survey of more than 1,700 workers. One in five younger workers said they had felt the urge to self-harm or hurt themselves in the last year.

Younger workers feel pressure all around them. While most don’t yet have the responsibilities that come with a mortgage or family, they feel more pressure than their older colleagues do. Worry about work is most prevalent, but four in 10 workers aged 18 to 30 frequently (daily or weekly) worry about their health. One in four feels isolated or lonely at work. It doesn’t paint a happy picture of our future workforce. And for employers who want a healthy, motivated and productive workforce, the facts are disturbing.

But some organizations are willing to tackle the stigma around mental health. They create an open and supportive culture and lead from the top.  And they are already changing the mental well-being of their people.

By the time they are 30, 77 percent of workers in the United Kingdom will have had personal experience with mental health challenges. 


In these more supportive companies, mental health conditions among younger workers declined from 65 percent to 41 percent. Their younger people were more able to cope with the everyday stresses of working life. Those experiencing poor mental health were better able to cope at work (39 percent in less supportive organizations, 84 percent in the more supportive cultures).

In these organisations, leaders are changing the game and leading in a truly different way. Almost nine in 10 employees working in supportive cultures described leaders as “open, warm and human” when it comes to mental health. That’s a staggering 17 times more than the five percent that say this in the least supportive companies.

And the impact? Workplaces that are more likely—four times more likely—to be seen as a positive influence on their employees’ mental health.

Read our new report about Younger Workers and Mental Health or watch the This Can Happen video.

Barbara Harvey

Managing Director – Accenture Research

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