Employees look to employers for mental health support as threat of second lockdown looms

06 October 2020

  • 41% of employees have experienced poor mental health related to work in the past year
  • More than half of those affected (51%) put it down to pressure at work
  • Despite challenges, the study from Business in the Community and Bupa UK suggests support for employee mental health has improved
  • Employees felt that colleagues (76%) and line managers (69%) are being considerate of mental wellbeing

Despite the far-reaching effects of COVID-19 and the pressures of lockdown, the UK workforce is feeling much more supported by their managers and colleagues.

The study of 3,614 employees by Business in the Community in partnership with Bupa UK and the BITC Wellbeing Leadership Team found that 41% of employees say they have experienced poor mental health where work was a contributing factor, up from 39% in 2019.

Pressure was identified as the most common cause of work-induced mental health issues this year (51%), while another 35% put symptoms down to workload, long hours, and lack of annual leave during the pandemic.

Concerningly, three in 10 (30%) employees affected by poor mental health admit to telling nobody about it, up from 2019 (27%), even though early diagnosis is recognised as having a positive impact on the long-term prognosis of mental health conditions.

But in the wake of a challenging year for mental health, there are some positive signs. 58% of workers now feel that their line managers – often on the frontline of mental health support in companies – have communicated well during the pandemic.

And workplaces, whether virtual or physical, have taken huge strides in providing valuable support for employees when it comes to mental health. Three quarters of UK workers (76%) report that their colleagues are considerate of their mental wellbeing, and 69% believe the same of their managers. Yet only 37% of CEOs and boards are deemed considerate, suggesting more needs to be done at the top to promote a culture of good mental health.

In line with these findings BITC and Bupa are encouraging organisations to continue to prioritise employee wellbeing as cases rise and workers face more uncertainty as the pandemic continues.

The Mental Health at Work Commitment is a set of actions that any organisation can follow to improve and support the mental health of their people:

1. Prioritise mental health in the workplace by developing and delivering a systematic programme of activity

2. Proactively ensure work design and organisation culture drive positive mental health outcomes

3. Promote an open culture around mental health

4. Increase organisational awareness and confidence in mental health with training, education, and resources for managers and individuals

5. Provide mental health tools and support

6. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting

Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director at Business in the Community, said:

“It is hard to believe that, despite the terrible effects of COVID-19 on all of our lives, employees finally feel that they are getting the support they need from their places of work. As we face the impending threat of a second lockdown, we need companies to keep stepping up for their employees.”

Mark Allan, Commercial Director for UK Insurance at Bupa, said:

“The pandemic has increased the urgency for organisations to develop wellbeing strategies that promote positive mental health, particularly as workforces are dispersed across the country, workloads are changing, and job security is uncertain for many. Therefore, it’s encouraging to see so many employers have risen to the challenge, and potentially limited the mental health impact of what has been an enormously disruptive six months for organisations and their people.

Yet it’s clear that gaps remain, and employees are feeling pressure from workload, long hours, and lack of annual leave. With local lockdowns already in place and potential for further measures, business leaders need to address these challenges quickly and ensure they are creating a supportive wellbeing culture. Promoting positive mental health will not only enable businesses to continue to provide support through the ongoing situation but also build a stronger workforce for years to come.” David Oldfield, Chair of BITC’s Wellbeing Leadership team and Group Director of Commercial Banking at Lloyds Banking Group, said:

“The Mental Health at Work Commitment has laid the foundations for the improvements we can see in this research and will be a crucial tool for all organisations in the real test to come: how to make this year’s results the start of a trend, not an exception.”