The number of people who have experienced mental health issues while in employment has climbed from a quarter to a third over the last five years, research shows.
Despite this, the majority of employees still do not feel that people experiencing mental health issues are supported well enough at work.
The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said organisations should take a more preventative approach to employees’ mental wellbeing, encouraging a culture of openness in their workplace and training line managers to provide and signpost support.
The survey of 2,000 employees found that of those who have had poor mental health at work, more than four in 10 (42%) have experienced a problem in the past 12 months to the extent it has affected their health and wellbeing.
Despite this increase, the number of employees who said their organisation supports employees with mental health issues either ‘very’ or ‘fairly well’ remains less than half (46%).
This is an improvement of nine percentage points since 2011, when just 37% of respondents said their organisation was able to support employees either fairly or very well.
Just four in 10 employees (44%) would currently feel confident disclosing unmanageable stress or mental health problems to their current employer or manager, a similar proportion as reported five years ago (41%).
Rachel Suff, employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said mental health should get just as much attention, awareness and understanding as physical health. She said employers have a responsibility to manage stress and mental health at work, making sure employees are aware of, and able to access, the support available to them.
“It’s crucial that organisations work to promote an open and inclusive culture so that employees feel confident about disclosing mental health issues and discussing the challenges they are experiencing. Promoting good mental health also makes good business sense, as employees are likely to be more engaged and productive if they work for an organisation with a workforce wellbeing strategy that emphasises the importance of both good mental and physical health,” Suff said.
The CIPD’s survey also asked employees what types of support their employer currently provides to manage and help people with mental health problems.
The most common provisions were phased return to work (32% of employees), access to flexible working arrangements (30%), access to occupational health services (27%) and access to counselling services (27%).
The least common provisions were mental health first aiders (3%), mental health champions (5%), and training for line managers in managing and supporting people with mental health problems (10%).
Suff said there is a distinct trend of reactive measures when it comes to how employers support people with mental health issues.
“These are very important, but we also need to see more preventative steps to promote good mental wellbeing. Where possible, employees with mental health problems should be able to access support before problems escalate to a point where they struggle to manage work and their illness, and need to take time out of work,” she said.