It’s good to talk: 6 February 2020 was ‘Time to Talk Day’, organised by Time to Change, an organisation aiming to transform the way we think and act about mental health issues. The campaign group is focused on ending mental health discrimination by helping to improve attitudes and behaviour. The aim of ‘Time to Talk Day’ is to get people talking about mental health; the more dialogue, the less people with mental health issues feel isolated and ashamed. And we have plenty to talk about on workplace mental health in our 2020 Aviva Health of the Workplace Study, conducted by YouGov, where we’ve recorded significant changes in attitudes to mental health issues.
Our study first appeared in 2007, with the aim of providing an annual snapshot of the health of the UK workforce, while highlighting the challenges employers face.
Since we started the research, the world of work has been transformed. Technology has enabled more flexible working both in terms of the hours we work and where we work, helping employees better manage their work and homelife. However, technological change is also encouraging an ‘always on’ mentality. The line between work and homelife is becoming increasingly blurred. This can make it difficult for employees to switch off. Our research highlights that employees are already experiencing symptoms such as difficulty sleeping which are putting a strain on their mental health.
As a result, employers are reporting an increased number of employees with mental health conditions and recognise it as an ongoing concern for their businesses. So, it’s not surprising that around three in five employers (61%) feel that stress-related illness will be the biggest occupational health concern this year. This figure is 10% higher than a decade ago. And six in ten say that sickness absence rates are on the rise as their workforces becomes increasingly stressed.
In this context, a key part of our survey covers who employers and employees feel is responsible for an individual’s mental health and to look at what support is available to create a healthier workplace. And like ‘Time to Talk Day’, these people have spoken to us, so the survey is effectively our ongoing conversation with the workplace.
Positive shift in attitudes to workplace mental health
The good news is that our latest survey shows a positive change in the perception of mental health issues in the workplace. Around three quarters of employees and employers who took part in the study feel that stigma associated with mental health had reduced – showing that the efforts to raise the profile of mental health are paying off. The changes reflect wider changes in society, for which there are many drivers. For example, when talented, internationally-famous individuals from the sports and entertainment world describe their mental health challenges, it makes it more acceptable for those in workplaces the length and breadth of the UK to feel differently about their personal situations.
But who do employees talk to when they have a mental health issue? Although many would talk to their family and friends, this year’s study reveals that only 12% sought support from a work colleague and less than one in ten employees spoke to their line manager. Only 4% talked to Human Resources.
Employers and employees share similar views on mental health
There’s also a growing recognition that ’it’s ok not to be ok’ among employers and employees. Here are some more findings:
|Four statements – who agrees?||Employers|
|‘The stigma associated with mental health has decreased over the past few years’||74%||74%|
|‘It’s OK not to feel OK’||88%||87%|
|‘Life’s challenges are what makes us stronger’||66%||59%|
|‘Everyone feels under pressure or down sometimes, it’s how you deal with it that counts’||85%||81%|
The survey also noted that employees are increasingly becoming mindful of their colleagues’ mental health. Over half (55%) of people highlighted that they worked with someone who experienced a mental health condition. Encouragingly, 76% said they were concerned about their colleagues and did their best to help. However, 5% were sceptical whether their colleague actually ‘had an issue.’
To sum up, talking about mental health helps. As ‘Time to Talk Day’ shows, maintaining the dialogue, keeping the conversation going and channels of communication open are vital components to combat this complex and ongoing workplace issue.