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Survey: SMEs see steep increase in mental health concerns since the pandemic began, new data suggests

Breathe, HR software provider for SMEs, is announcing the findings from a recent survey aiming to understand business attitudes and approaches to mental health in the workplace.

The pandemic has undoubtedly fuelled a mental health crisis which continues to impact mental and physical wellbeing of staff. As a result, employers are under pressure to introduce adequate safeguarding measures. Additionally, UK charities are observing that the lifting of lockdown restrictions and the subsequent return to workplaces could trigger heightened levels of stress and anxiety for many, so there is increased urgency for support to be available for staff.

A sample of 429 SME cross-sector decision makers were surveyed with questions around current and planned policy to tackle the surge in mental health problems.

Key stats:

  • Surge in reported incidents of mental health issues – 68% of SME business leaders say they have seen an increase in employees reporting mental health issues since the pandemic began
  • Lack of support during hard times – A quarter (25%) of those surveyed have not introduced additional mental health support measures during the pandemic
  • Open door policy – The overwhelming majority of those surveyed (79%) said people are encouraged to speak openly about their mental health, which is a positive response

Appetite for investment in additional support:

  • A large majority (65%) of respondents say their organisation has introduced additional mental health measures to support staff throughout the pandemic
  • 1 in 5 (a fifth) of those surveyed said they were not sure they would invest in additional mental health measures
  • Are employers viewing revenue streams as the priority for budget investment (as suggested in the latest edition of Breathe’s Culture Economy 2021 report)?
  • <This could suggest SME teams lack time and resource to invest in expanding support measures
  • The majority (77%) of SME decisionmakers would invest in additional health measures if government support was available which is great to see

Jonathan Richards, CEO & Founder at Breathe, commented:

It’s alarming but equally unsurprising to see the steep incline in mental health issues arising among SMEs since the pandemic began. However, what’s important is that leaders are displaying the right attitudes to supporting those who face mental illness, situational or pre-existing. The data does suggest these issues are being acknowledged, which is a good start, but of course without government funding and financial support in this area there must at least be recognition on a cultural level. Giving people some headspace over what has been a monumentally tough year should be a business priority.”

Sarah Murphy, Associate Director for Advice, Information & Training at Rethink Mental Illness, added:

“Removing the stigma around mental health problems as a collective organisation should take priority in the post-covid workplace and beyond. People living with and managing mental illness in all its variations should be entitled to a good quality of life, and as work has such a strong influence over people’s mental wellbeing especially during these times, it is only right that policies are updated to reflect employers’ duty of care. Investment in people and their wellbeing is always a sensible, and ethical, decision.”

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