Many businesses are failing to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees through the cost-of-living crisis, a survey of 3000 companies and staff has revealed.
Only a third of businesses said they regarded improving staff morale as their responsibility, according to the YouGov poll, while most saw attracting and retaining talent and improving productivity as their main priority.
The poll revealed that one in four businesses said they spent nothing at all on mental health and wellness support for their workforces, with 58% spending £100 or less, per-employee-per-year.
Since the pandemic, most staff said they had returned to normal working practices, with fewer than half reporting that they still had the option of flexible working – including being able to work from home and to choose when they work.
Just two per cent of employees said they felt confident about going to their boss if they had a problem in their personal life or with their finances, while only 1% would talk to a work colleague. More people said they would search the Internet before going to their line manager with an issue.
The survey follows the publication of another report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which showed worrying levels of in-work poverty.
It said employers should be doing more to ease the pressure on staff facing financial difficulties, including offering flexible working and more secure shifts, creating a compassionate workplace culture, and signposting employees to specialist support.
Marcus Herbert, head of wellbeing at the British Safety Council, said: “Employers who don’t invest in employee wellbeing may be missing out on the productivity benefits it can provide.
“SMEs are more likely to suffer if an employee, who is crucial to their operation, has to take time off work to deal with stress or because they have a repetitive strain injury.”
Mental health adviser and former CBI deputy director general, Henrietta Jowitt, said: “Wellbeing is an output – it is the result of a whole range of inputs that support your people. It is not a package, off the shelf.
“If you don’t understand your colleagues’ needs and look after their wellbeing, so that they feel they are safe, belong and are supported in a way that works for them, they will neither stay nor produce their best work.”
The online poll of 1009 British employers and 2009 employees, commissioned by welltech company Frog Systems, was conducted last December.
It showed that while demand for mental health and wellbeing services among staff was high – particularly for stress and anxiety and the cost-of-living crisis – a significant number of workers said they received little or no support from bosses. The services that were provided were not always of value to them.
While one in four businesses said they ran wellbeing workshops, those were used by just four per cent of staff. Almost one in three businesses (32%) said they offered support from a mental health First Aid trainer, but this was taken up by just two per cent of employees.
And whilst one in three (34%) and almost one in four (24%) employers said they provided EAPs and wellbeing apps respectively; both solutions were used by just five per cent of staff.
The survey also showed that the size of businesses, where they are in the country and what sector they are in determine how much, if any, support employers provide.
Age also played a part, with demand for support with the cost of living most marked among younger employees –70% of under 35s cited it as a priority compared, with just 37% of over 55s.
Workers were best served in London where one in five companies reported spending more than £500 per employee per year.
People working in hospitality and leisure and retail are among the poorest served by employers, according to the findings, while those in professional services and in IT and telecoms receive the most support.
Only one in ten of those working for an SME reported that they had access to an Employee Assistance Programme with 38% being able to work flexibly.
Fewer than one in ten said they had access to wellbeing workshops, support from a mental health First Aid trainer, or wellbeing apps
While 47% of all employees said they had access to flexible working, there was a wide variation across industries.
The option was open to 60% of people working in media, marketing and sales and IT and Telecoms, but only to 47% in construction and retail and 42% in hospitality and leisure.
Geographically, there was also a split, with 60% of workers in London reporting being able to work flexibly compared with 38% in the West Midlands and 31% in Wales.
Phil Worms, CEO of Frog Systems, said the report showed a gulf in trust in the workplace around wellbeing support for employees.
“Whilst many employers seem to understand the emotional and physical challenges being faced by their employees, they don’t appear to be able to provide the right wellbeing tools and information to support them.
“Solutions which are reactive, standalone, ‘tick box,’ not trusted, or do not provide sufficient insight will not enable the deployment of early intervention and support strategies.
“By listening to, and understanding what employees need, companies can start to build stronger, more empathetic and productive work environments. Access to wellbeing support should not be a lottery or a privilege.”