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Employees still uncomfortable discussing mental health

16 May 2023

JUST ONE in ten employees surveyed who have experienced certain mental health conditions sought help from their line manager over the past year, according to research of UK consumers by Aviva* this Mental Health Awareness Week 2023.

Just 14% of employees surveyed said they would discuss their mental health with a work colleague and only 5% said they would speak to their colleagues in HR or a wellbeing officer. 

There were small changes in attitudes compared to previous Aviva research carried out in February 20202.

Sophie Money, wellbeing manager at Aviva said, “The employee and employer experience has changed drastically in the three years that this research spans, with COVID-19 as the main driver of change. It is likely that many of the participants of this research had varying experiences of their own and colleagues’ mental health during this period, so it is interesting that we have not seen greater changes in attitudes over this time.”

The research also found a significant disconnect between employee and employer attitudes to whether the right support was provided to those struggling with their mental health in the workplace.

Over three-quarters (79%) of employers surveyed have agreed* that they’re ‘good at recognising when team members/employees are under pressure’, yet only 44% of employees surveyed agreed* their line manager is very good at recognising when they are under pressure. This, however, is a slightly smaller gap compared to 2020 when 77% of employers said they are ‘good at identifying when team members are under pressure’ but only 37% of employees agreed with this statement.

Colleague mental health 

The low confidence of employees in their employer doesn’t seem to support the improvement of mental health conversations at work. When it comes to their colleagues, employees are mindful of mental health, though the research shows attitudes have changed over the past three years.

Some 7 out of 10 (71%) of respondents said they were concerned about their colleagues with a mental health condition and did their best to help, down from 76% in 2020. Scepticism has also worsened with 8% being sceptical whether their colleague actually had ‘an issue’, up from 5% in 2020.

In 2020 nearly three quarters (74%) of both employees and employers believed the stigma towards mental health had decreased, but this has fallen to 59% of employees and 49% of employers who continue to think the same** in 2023.

As education is key to reducing stigma, Aviva launched the Mental Health Toolkit for Line Managers in September 2021 to help improve informed conversations. Available to Group Protection and Health clients, the toolkit includes clinician-designed video modules and supporting content to empower line managers to spot the warning signs of poor mental health, have supportive conversations with their colleagues and address mental health concerns before these become more serious.

The toolkit has received more than 3,600 views since launch, suggesting that a growing number of managers understand the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace and ensuring their employees get support when they need it. Prompted by the positive reception of the toolkit for line managers, Aviva also released employee mental health videos in September 2022.

Sophie Money added: “It's good to see an improvement in the number of people seeking support. The change may be small but it's a start and hopefully an indication that employees are more aware of the support available to them.

“Employers continue to have a vital role to play, ensuring that all employees can be themselves at work, and can feel confident that they would receive the support required when they need it. We hope that the tools we have provided continue to support this journey.”

Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva, with 1001 UK employers *defined as senior managers or above and 2005 UK employees *defined as middle managers or below between 23.01.2023 - 27.01.2023. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles

2 https://www.aviva.com/newsroom/news-releases/2020/02/time-to-talk-day-fewer-than-10-percent-of-uk-employees-will-discuss-mental-health-with-their-managers/