Where are we now? A global snapshot of mental health at work

27 Jun 2022

Culture change doesn’t just happen. Sure, many more organisations are now alive to the power of supporting employee wellbeing. But actually etching this into company culture? That takes real, informed and focused work.

But wait. Before action, we first need awareness. That’s why Unmind (via InSites Consulting) quizzed 1,200 knowledge workers at companies with 500+ staff, across the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand, about mental health and wellbeing.

In time for World Wellbeing Week 2022, the results are a global snapshot of where we are right now, and show:

How companies perceive staff mental health and wellbeing.
The steps they’ve taken to improve it.
What barriers remain in place.

Intrigued? Oh, you will be. And also informed.

Not quite intrigued enough to read the whole thing? Here are the headlines:

  1. Despite high self-reported levels of knowledge and confidence, 36% of people find MHW very confusing, especially those aged 18-34.
  2. 48% of people find it hard to fit MHW practice into their day, and 40% now feel pressured to do so.
  3. 77% recognise the impact of poor mental health on their career, 75% recognise it in their workplace, and 66% recognise it in their company culture.
  4. 50% say that mental health culture impacts their decision to join or stay with a company.
  5. 60% feel responsible for supporting colleagues and only 54% feel confident in providing that support.
  6. The biggest barriers to engagement in mental health programmes are time and trust.
  7. Awareness, leadership and accessible resources are holding back positive change in their organisations.
  8. Wellbeing apps are seen as more important than free food. Mental Health training is seen as more important than a gym membership.

Part one – How are employees feeling about mental health?

A great big takeaway: people want to be better at managing their own mental health, but they need support to do it.

Over four-fifths of respondents (84%) had either a ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ strong desire to be good at managing their mental health and wellbeing (MH&W). That said, 1 in 3 people admitted to finding the entire MH&W space confusing. When asked, people said they wanted general advice and someone to talk to – as well as advice on methods to improve mental health.

In the research, a lack of sleep, stress in the workplace and anxiety were the major challenges cited as having the largest impact on employees’ ability to manage their mental health.

Advice for HR: scrap your search for silver bullets

There’s no single solution for workplace wellbeing. Deep down, we all know this (life is messy, and individuals are, by nature, individual). But it doesn’t mean companies don’t still search for that magical fix.

For HR leaders, the challenge is to leave ‘silver bullets’ behind, in favour of a whole-person, whole-organisation approach. This could be a combination of flexible, hybrid work. A variety of wellbeing initiatives (as while a mindfulness app may prove life-changing for one staffer, others will be less moved). And/or a drumbeat of top-down and bottom-up support (internal messaging campaigns, and a crack team of wellbeing champions).

Done right, you can start to curate a culture with mental health and wellbeing square in the middle. Do that, and your staff have a far greater chance to consider, and connect with, their own minds. Why? Because support is on offer from various angles.

Part two – It’s great to talk

Asking for help isn’t always easy.

In the survey, over three quarters (77%) admitted mental health impacts their career. Yet barriers to support endure – 4 in 10 claimed they wouldn’t talk about their own mental health with a line manager, even though 8% would like to. Meanwhile, a third (34%) of respondents said they don’t expect any MH&W support at work, with this answer highest amongst entry level workers, and those over 45.

Some bright shoots abound, mind you. A majority (64%) said their employers do support them, and nearly half (44%) of workers with access to wellbeing apps use them.

That last stat could be far better but, it’s worth repeating: change doesn’t just happen. Turning awareness into engagement takes time. Work. People. Culture.

Advice for HR: Leaders must lead the way

A mental health culture spreads in an environment where all staff, at every level, feel comfortable talking about wellbeing at work.

A helpful way to kick-start the process? Senior leaders going first. It cannot be overstated just how powerful an exec or line manager opening up about their own mental health challenges is. This act alone gives other workers (especially more junior staff) licence to do the same.

Leaders set the tone elsewhere, too. There’s no point in a firm trumpeting its commitment to a psychologically safe workplace, if managers then clock obscene hours, fire out emails at 1am, or badger direct reports while they (or they themselves) are OOO. Whether it’s intended or not, this sends a loud (if silent) signal about how they expect others to behave.

Part three – Time for change

Time – specifically, a lack of it – was cited as the most roadblock to engaging with MH&W initiatives. In the research, 35% of respondents said so, followed by 31% who argued they didn’t feel the need, and 15% who pointed to embarrassment.

Meanwhile, 4 in 10 people (39%) claimed a lack of time stops them doing more to support mental health, and half of all survey-takers (48%) said they found it hard to fit MH&W practices into their day.

This suggests that, in a working world where ‘always on’ is the default setting, nurturing our own wellbeing is being shunted down the to-do list. And, for some, it seems this rarely wins out against a flood of emails, Slack messages, or incessant work admin.

Advice for HR: Measure it, manage it

At last, companies can wave ta’ra to scattershot wellbeing schemes that aren’t tied to clear strategy (e.g. free fruit, just because), in favour of a truly data-driven approach.

From engagement to productivity, even the warning signs for burnout (hello, no time for wellbeing initiatives), measurement tools can help companies learn the pain points of an entire workforce, then use this to steer MH&W strategy.

More than that, this approach shows staff their concerns are not just listened to, but acted on. It’s proof that psychological safety is a vital company value, and not a hollow buzzphrase.

Part four – Workplace mental health isn’t working

Somewhere, in the gap between employees’ wants and their reality, things are going awry. Among survey-takers, 9 in 10 (89%) said a work-life balance was key. Yet only two-thirds (66%) claimed they were happy with theirs.

Elsewhere in the data, the majority (60%) felt career progression was important, yet half said a company’s mental health culture could guide their choice – when joining or staying with an organisation.

More troubling is the finding that a third of all respondents (34%) believed it is leadership that stands in the way of delivering a MH&W culture at work. Likewise the fact that, though 60% of employees said they felt responsible for supporting workmates with their mental health, just 54% felt confident about doing so.

Advice for HR: Knowledge is empowerment

Helping staff to nurture and protect their mental health is as much about the organisation as it is the individual.

Just learning about mental health is proven to improve your wellbeing, and previous Unmind research showed the importance of mental health training: 87% felt it was key for managers, leaders, and employees alike.

By boosting everyone’s MH&W understanding, at the same time, you equip staff at every level with the skills needed to support their colleagues’ mental health, as well as their own.

What’s more, you plant the seedlings for a better, joined-up culture. One where outdated stigma is swapped for reliable insight. Where no one is afraid to be candid about their own wellbeing experiences. And psychological safety is no longer an abstract fantasy, but a firm-wide reality.

Change starts here

To find out more about how Unmind can help drive cultural change within your organisation, book a chat with an Unminder today.

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