Stigma around mental health in the workplace persists in many organisations, amid signs that stress is putting significant pressure on workers across a range of industries, reveals new research by the ADP Research Institute.

Only one in seven (14%) of respondents polled in ADP’s study say they would feel comfortable telling HR about a mental health problem or concern. One in four (25%) would not feel comfortable telling anyone at work.

The Workforce View 2020 – Volume One pre-COVID-19, which surveyed workers between October 2019 and early January 2020, explores how employees feel about current issues in the workplace and the future of work.  Campaigns to raise awareness and ease the stigma around mental health problems have been gaining traction in several countries in recent years, while in others it remains a taboo topic.

According to the Mental Health Foundation[1],70 million workdays are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.

COVID-19 and stress make matters worse

Current efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic could risk making mental health issues even worse than reflected in Volume One of the study, as workers in many industries self-isolate and concerns over job security are heightened, while key workers face feeling over-worked and under-resourced. (N.B. The research was conducted before the global outbreak of COVID-19, so responses do not reflect views around its potential impact.)

Also exacerbating the issue, workplace stress is common. Seven in ten workers (68%) report feeling stressed at work at least once a week, while less than one in ten (8%) say they never do.

Younger generations are most likely to feel stressed regularly, with 75% of 16-24 year olds being stressed once a week, compared with 48% of over 55s.  Worryingly 94% of 16-24 year olds experience stress at least once a month.

The issue of stress is greatest in sectors currently undergoing the most rapid change. 75% of IT and telecoms workers feel stressed at least once a week, and 69% of those working in media and information feel the same.

Annabel Jones, HR Director at ADP UK, commented:

“Mental health issues are still being hidden away in the workplace under a shadow of shame, with a detrimental knock-on effect on both workers and businesses.”

“Despite several notable attempts to tackle the taboos, there is still a long way to go to open up the conversation. Though talking about mental health remains difficult, either because people worry that it might harm their careers or due to cultural sensitivities, HR teams can play a major role in breaking down barriers so that staff feel supported to come forward.

“Raising awareness of the issue internally within organisations, putting policies in place to deal with it and signposting how employees can get help are some of the ways in which employers can show they care and that they are taking it seriously.

“However, given that extreme and chronic stress can be a trigger for mental health problems, employers may also need to think about how to ease the burden on workers which may contribute to poor health, whether that’s physical or mental. Addressing areas like whether there is a long hours culture or whether staff feel valued in their roles could have a positive effect on wellbeing.

“As many employees are still working from home because of coronavirus – or working harder than ever in roles that may put them at greater risk of catching it - the mental health stakes are raised even more. Aside from the physical impacts of COVID-19, employers need to bear in mind its potential psychological impacts too.

“That will be challenging, especially for large organisations where staff are working remotely or in cultures where discussing mental health is less socially acceptable. However, it’s an issue HR will have to confront, both now and when workers return to the workplace, which will create another stressful upheaval to reacclimatise to.”

About the research: The Global Workforce View 2020 report explores employees’ attitudes towards the current world of work and what they expect and hope for from the workplace of the future. ADP Research Institute surveyed 32,442 workers around the world between 29 October 2019 and 6 January 2020. This included:

  • 15,274 in Europe (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and the UK)
  • 3,811 in North America (USA and Canada)
  • 5,723 in Latin America (Argentina, Brazil and Chile)
  • 7,634 in Asia Pacific (APAC) (Australia, China, India and Singapore)

Global results are weighted to represent the size of the working population for each country.

Since the research was conducted before the global outbreak of COVID-19, the results do not reflect views around its potential impact. ADP Research Institute is undertaking an additional survey on the key issues.  The Workforce View 2020 – Volume Two will be published to reflect the findings.

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