Skip to main content

Time to Talk: Mental Health in the Workplace

Details: Written by Kate Hutchinson |

time to talk day

In many ways, fictional characters like Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, The Devil Wears Prada Miranda Priestly and Mad Men’s Don Draper can still exist in real-life workplaces. The ‘always on’ attitude that we see on screen and in our workplace can foster unhealthy expectations and pressures on some employees, negatively impacting their mental health.

This Time to Talk Day, The Skills Network are calling for employers to make space for a conversation about mental health in the workplace.

What is Time to Talk Day?

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year.

Over our lifetime, we will spend 90,000 hours at our workplace, whether that be in an office, hybrid working or fully remote, so the chances of experiencing a mental health problem whilst at work are quite high.

Time to Talk Day is the nation's biggest mental health conversation and is the perfect opportunity for employers to build awareness and openly communicate about mental health with their employees.

By making the space to have a conversation, and providing information and support, employers can help avoid the detrimental effects of poor mental health.

The day is a UK-wide campaign, run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in England, in collaboration with The Co-op, SAMH and See Me in Scotland, Inspire and Change Your Mind Northern Ireland, and Time to Change Wales.

The ultimate goal of the campaign is to raise awareness and encourage businesses, friends, family, colleagues and partners to create a safe and supportive community for people to openly discuss their own mental health.

Conversations about mental health have the power to change people’s lives.

This blog will focus on mental health in the workplace and the pivotal role employers can take in encouraging and creating that all-important ‘time to talk’.

Employers have a legal obligation to protect the mental health of their employees

In UK law, employers must ensure the health and safety of their employees at work and provide a safe working environment, including remote working. If an employee has a mental health issue, employers must do all they reasonably can to support the individual’s safety and well-being.

A business must consider how to protect an individual with a mental health disorder or mental health issues from potential discrimination and physical harm. Employers have to complete a mandatory stress risk assessment and DSE (Display Screen Equipment) risk assessment for all employees who fall under their standard duty of care.

Mental health conditions among employees are likely to satisfy the legal definition of a disability under the 2010 Equality Act because most conditions have a substantial and long-term impact on the employee’s everyday life.

Employees with mental health conditions are likely to be protected from disability discrimination and will be entitled to reasonable adjustments from their employer.

Despite the robust legal protections, UK employees with a long-term mental health condition lose their job at around double the rate of those without a mental health condition. This equates to 300,000 people every year in the UK – the equivalent of the population of Newcastle or Belfast.

The Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis have triggered a steep rise in demand for mental health help in the workplace

It’s fair to say it's been a tough year, and this has had a huge impact on employee well-being. It is anticipated that 1 in 6 workers will experience depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress at any one time.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), anxiety and depression increased by 25% during the first year of the pandemic. Nearly one in five workers across the world (17%) identified as feeling highly or extremely stressed.

Fast forward to 2024 and the hangover of the pandemic is still affecting employee mental health as many grapple with the reality of heading back to the office or continuing to adjust to hybrid working.

Additional stressors have raised their ugly head since the start of the pandemic. The cost-of-living crisis has left many workers with the stark choice between heating their homes, filling their cars with fuel or putting food on the table.

As workers continue to recover from the upheaval of the pandemic and navigate the cost of living crisis, our health and social care services have been subjected to unprecedented demand, pushing the workforce well beyond its limits.

Jemima Burnage, Care and Quality Commission’s Deputy Chief Inspector for Mental Health said:

“The pandemic placed unprecedented pressure on all health and social care services, the people using them and the staff working in them. Despite strains on services, we have seen many examples of good practice and the dedication of the staff. “However, the workforce is exhausted with high levels of vacancies potentially risking the delivery of safe, high-quality care that respects human rights.”

Additional pressures have been directed at workplaces to ‘plug the gap’ left by stretched health and social care services.

Research has revealed that soaring numbers of UK employees looked for Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) in 2021. The EAP Association found that 347,000 more UK staff used an EAP in October 2021 than they did a year earlier.

Paul Roberts, EAP Board Member and Researcher stated:

“We know from all of our conversations with EAP providers that the average phone call now involves more complexity, more employees with multiple issues to deal with, meaning more stretch and strain for operations.”

Further research has found that:
  • 80% of organisations have seen an increase in demand for employee mental health support.
  • 54% of working parents want their employers to introduce mental wellness days.
  • An estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety worldwide.

To combat the rising workplace mental health crisis, employers have driven a sharp rise in the introduction of mental health first aiders into the workplace over the last 3 years.

Since March 2020, mental health charity- Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) has trained over 132,000 people in their mental health first aid course. 77,000 of those who completed their training went on to qualify as a mental health first aider across 20,000 UK businesses.

Poor mental health in the workplace is a huge driver for the ‘Great Resignation’

As employees had the opportunity to reflect upon their values and priorities during the Covid 19 pandemic, 65% of those who left their job in 2022 said their decision was based on their poor mental health.

To dissect this further, a recent Deloitte report uncovered that young people are the biggest group quitting their jobs because of poor mental health. In the 18-29-year-old age bracket, an astonishing one in three had switched jobs in 2021 due to pandemic-related stress.

Those who decided to remain in their current position also noted a significant decline in their mental health quality as a result of the great resignation. Mental health issues in the workplace were aggravated by the after-effects of the pandemic, with employees absorbing the workload of multiple vacant positions. Many employees have been left feeling burnt out and on the verge of a mental health crisis.

Burnout is often framed as the root cause of the great resignation.

84% of Forbes survey respondents reported at least one workplace factor that negatively impacted their mental health.

employee burnout

Remote and Hybrid working can lead to feelings of isolation and poor mental health in the workplace

There are some well-documented advantages to flexible work patterns such as making time for hobbies and no gruesome morning commutes. Equally, most employees are proven to be more productive at home with less time-wasting and distractions.

Despite these well-sung pros, there are some cons to hybrid and remote working that can negatively impact employee mental health. A recent survey revealed that remote and hybrid working can lead to employees feeling “socially isolated, guilty and trying to over-compensate”.

61% of employees stated that they were concerned about low socialisation opportunities when working from home and lower visibility to leadership (42%).

Studies suggest that the surge of employees working from home has triggered a loneliness epidemic in the UK. 67% of 18-34-year-olds stated that since working remotely, they struggle to maintain working relationships and make new friends. 71% stated that they felt they had become more distant from their colleagues, with 54% directly attributing the pandemic as the root cause for their loneliness.

The negative mental health impact of remote working can come as an unwelcome shock, with many employees feeling the crush of realising that the office might be the lesser of two evils.

UK employers can look to other European countries for successful workplace mental health advocacy

2022 research across 16 countries revealed that the UK was in the top 5 worst European countries for employee well-being, with Poland ranking the worst. UK employees were found to work the highest amount of weekly average hours, whilst having the lowest score for flexible working opportunities, with just 4.7% working remotely.

For many years, Denmark has been at the top of several international well-being studies such as The World Happiness Report in recent years. Denmark’s reputation for well-being and happiness appears to have remained intact even after the pandemic, making Denmark a rich source of inspiration for UK employers.

In stark contrast to the UK, Danish workers work an average of 1.4 hours less than workers in the rest of Europe. Danish workplaces are famed for their gender equality, work-life balance, paternity policy and lateral approach to workplace hierarchy.

Denmark’s commitment to the mental health of its employees is seemingly here to stay with a 10-year mental health plan being proposed to the Danish parliament in 2022. The plan would provide mental health services across the entire health system spectrum, including integrated mental health services in schools and all professional workplace settings.

Should the national mental health plan be approved, it will be one of the most expensive and ambitious mental health schemes in Europe.

Finland flag

What The Skills Network is doing to help improve mental health in the workplace

The Skills Network is committed to making time to talk for all employees, and as a business with a predominantly hybrid working model, we have a dual approach to encouraging time to talk.

With a largely remote or hybrid workforce, all employees have a plethora of online mental health support at their fingertips. Mental health support does not always have to be for those in crisis, it can be as simple as providing an outlet for regular communication and interaction.

The launch of the company Intranet in November 2023 provides an enriching platform for office and remote workers to get involved and talk with colleagues cross-departmentally. The Intranet also serves as a hub for celebrating our company culture and people-first attitude. The Intranet has enabled all staff to communicate with each other and feel that they are part of a wider community. Staff are encouraged to share their successes with the rest of the business and help celebrate the great work that everybody does.

For those based in the office, coffee and chat sessions are hosted in the canteen every week to provide a physical space to talk with individuals from the senior leadership team. These sessions are welcome to everybody within the business and are a valuable opportunity to informally meet and socialise with other employees and create a vital support network. Sometimes it really is nice to put a face to the name!

All staff have access to an Employee Assistance Programme through the provider Lifeworks, with 24/7 counselling services available should they need it.

In January 2023, The Skills Network launched the Wellbeing and Inclusion Group. The aim of this group is to help improve the workplace well-being offering for all The Skills Network employees and provide support from a holistic perspective, including mental health.

The Skills Network has also expanded the employee benefits offering that will in turn support the mental health of all staff; these include increasing annual leave entitlement and reviewing company sick pay.

Lorraine Donoghue. Director of People at The Skills Network said:

“We are committed to supporting our employee’s mental health and will continue our efforts to improve and grow our well-being offering and ensure staff have the resources they need to take care of their mental health.”

How can The Skills Network help your business this Time to Talk Day?

As an award-winning training provider, The Skills Network can help train and equip people with the skills and resources needed to implement a robust and meaningful mental health and well-being strategy.

Yorkshire Cricket Foundation chose to partner with The Skills Network in delivering 8 fully funded mental health courses to their local community.

Beth Cook, Health and Well-being Manager at Yorkshire Cricket Foundation says:

It’s time to talk

With resignation rates at an all-time high and staff feeling critically burnt out after years of unprecedented stress, it is imperative that employers practice mental health awareness. As a business, The Skills Network will endeavour to always listen, provide support and create time to talk for its employees.

By making time to talk, employers have the opportunity to rewrite the troubling narrative of poor mental health in the UK workplace.

Find out more about Time to Talk Day

Find out more about our fully funded mental health and well-being courses

The National News