While mental health awareness is a widely discussed topic, many UK workers still report needing more help. According to new research from Sodexo Engage, one in three (33%) UK employees have faced mental health challenges at work, with nearly half (46%) expressing fear of discrimination due to these challenges.

Furthermore, 41% of respondents do not feel they have anyone to talk to about their mental health at work, while 47% believe that discussing their mental health could negatively affect their job security.

The ongoing cost-of-living (CoL) crisis has become a significant concern for many employees, putting extra strain on their wellbeing following Covid-19. Sodexo Engage found that almost half of employees (47%) feel CoL has had a negative impact on their financial wellbeing, while 41% reported negative effects on their mental health.

Notably, the survey also revealed a gender disparity, with a higher percentage of female respondents (49%) experiencing poor mental health at work compared to male respondents (35%).

Sodexo Engage’s research also found that 27% of respondents took up to five days off in the past year due to poor mental health. On average, this translates to over 9 million UK employees taking time off for health issues, resulting in reduced productivity for businesses.

The data indicates that young workers are disproportionately affected by mental health issues, with 43% of respondents aged 18-24 taking time off work due to mental health compared to just 21% of 45-54 year-olds.

When asked, only 19% of respondents said they have mental health-related benefits at their job, indicating a clear gap. Furthermore, recent research by Sodexo Engage suggests that only 11% of employees are taking advantage of their workplace benefits, highlighting utilisation as another key issue.

Graham James, Director at Sodexo Engage, said “Businesses need to ensure they are creating workplaces where mental health is treated with the same level of importance as physical health, where employees feel supported, valued, and empowered to prioritise their wellbeing overall.”

When asked, respondents said flexible hours (41%) was top of which wellbeing benefits they would like businesses to implement. Other benefits requested included:
• Wellbeing days (23%)
• Access to mental health first aiders (18%)
• Manager mental health training (14%)

Graham continued, “Many businesses are already actively investing in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to provide a level of professional help and support for the wellbeing of their employees. This support needs to be clearly visible across different communication channels rather than hidden. However, it should also be a priority for organisations to strive to create a culture, which is supportive, inclusive and empathetic. Managers also play a vital role in the culture which is being created and the normalisation of conversations on mental health topics, how to identify signs of mental health concerns, and the ability to ask how a person is feeling.

“Surveys are a great way to ensure the offering is diverse and inclusive and sometimes is smaller more tailored benefits, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach than can boost the culture being created. For example, while meditation sessions could alleviate anxiety or stress in one organisation, in another business, employees might benefit from a more preventative, self-directed approach to mental wellbeing.”

Importantly business leaders also have a significant role to play in setting the tone, leaders should also consider discussing openly their own mental struggles and the benefits of seeking support when needed.
When implementing mental health support programmes, it is important to have a trusted partner to help HR teams navigate challenges and achieve meaningful change within the business. For more information on this, Sodexo Engage’s wellbeing strategy hub can provide guidance on employee wellbeing strategies.