Irish employers focusing on work life balance to support employee mental health

Moira Grassick - Chief Operating Officer

March 27 2023

As the most recent Health and Safety Authority data reveals that stress, depression, and anxiety are the second most common cause of workplace illness, it should be clear to any employer that mental health is an area they need to take very seriously.

A survey of 79,000 businesses across four countries – Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the UK – was conducted by Peninsula Group, a global employment law, HR and health & safety advisory and consultancy firm.

The results serve as a mental health temperature check to see if increased financial pressures and the cost-of-living crisis are having an impact on the mental health of the workforce.

What is the impact employers have seen on mental health?

Employers in all four countries have seen an increase in the number of people talking about mental health in the last 12 months. The UK saw the biggest change with 64% of workers discussing the issue more openly.

In contrast, only 22.5% of those surveyed in Canada agreed with this statement. And 8.5% of workers saw no change at all.

There was also an increase in the number of employers prioritising work/life balance. Ireland saw the biggest jump with 60% of employers focusing on this issue.

Mental health first aiders are slowly being implemented into a few workplaces in Australia, Ireland and the UK. The UK saw the biggest uptake with 18% of those surveyed training staff on the issue. Globally MFAs are only utilised in 5% of businesses with none of the Canadian businesses surveyed taking up the practice.

Despite the increase in discussions around the issue, it seems that employers are slow to implement new support measures. A fifth of businesses have begun this process with over a third of UK employers leading the way. Canada have been the slowest to make changes as only 6% have put in new measures.

More than half of Irish employers have reportedly seen no increase in the number of people experiencing mental health issues in their workplace. 44% of Canadian and Australian employers have also seen no increase, whilst only 38% of UK employers can say the same.

How confident are employers about their staff disclosing mental health issues to them?

Despite 43% of employers stating that they’ve witnessed people talking more about their mental health, only 12% of employees have confided in their bosses. Unfortunately, one in seven of those who did speak to their boss said that nothing was done to help them.

Globally, just under a quarter (23.5%) of those surveyed are very confident that staff would disclose a mental health issue with Australia leading this group by a small margin. Over 50% of all employers agreed that they were somewhat confident. But in Ireland, 32% of employers are either not confident or are unsure about the issue.

How many employers offer mental health days?

A quarter of survey respondents say they have noticed an increase in sick leave due to mental health. But, despite that, 90% of businesses do not offer mental health days to employees.

While 94% of employers said they’re available to help staff who are struggling with mental health concerns, the data suggests that the support being offered by employers doesn’t match up with what employees want or need.

85% of UK employers currently offer no mental health days and less than 10% of employers are planning to change this in the next 12 months.

Canadian employers are more likely to offer mental health days in addition to personal leave entitlement than any other. 23% already offer them with another 15% planning to introduce them within the next 12 months.

In comparison, 81% of employers in Ireland and 67% in Australia do not offer mental health days or plan to introduce them in the next 12 months.

What steps did employers take when experiencing mental health issues?

Employers in Canada and Australia are more likely to take time off work due to mental health than those in the UK or Ireland. But 46% of UK employers have seen an increase in the number of people in their workplace experiencing issues with mental health.

In all four countries, most employers chose to speak to family and friends about their problems or seek medical help from a GP.

Ireland is seeing an increase in the number of people taking time off work to care for family members with mental health issues. It was the only one of the four countries surveyed where this ranked in the top three answers.

Interestingly there has been a low uptake of EAP services from employers, including those who have mental health issues themselves in the last 12 months. Most overwhelmingly chose to speak to friends and family; use of the company EAP did not come in the top 3 responses in any of the four countries.

How confident are employers about discussing mental health concerns?

More than two thirds of employers said they are confident their employees would talk to them and disclose mental health concerns. However less than 10% of bosses said that they are comfortable discussing their own personal mental health.

UK employers were the most confident to talk about employee concerns but the least comfortable about discussing their own.

Irish employers however were the least confident discussing employee issues. But 20% of those surveyed said they would be available to talk despite feeling uncomfortable about the topic.

In the UK, industry plays a big part in how comfortable employers feel when discussing mental health.

Nearly 30% of healthcare employers describe themselves as very confident about supporting employee wellbeing. However, none of the employers surveyed in the energy and utilities sector would say the same.

34% of employers in the leisure, sport and tourism industry described themselves as very confident. This was the highest rate out of all the industries surveyed.

What does this say about mental health in the workplace?

Healthy employees make for a healthy workplace, so it’s encouraging to see employers comfortable about having conversations around both their own and their employees’ mental health.

Many are under pressure like never before, and the cost-of-living crisis and rising energy costs are having a significant impact on employers and employees alike.

It’s clear that there is still significant work to be done in this area, but the willingness of people to speak about mental health concerns shows a chance in workplace attitude. Hopefully this is a sign of things starting to move in the right direction.

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