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Fear of discussing mental health issues with employers is more prevalent for lower paid workers

Published by Laura Matthews on

  • Study by Barnett Waddingham found just 40% of employees on £20K - £30K would be happy discussing mental health at work, but this rises to 67% among those earning £70K - £75K
  • Lack of training is a major barrier to conversations – just one in four (25%) lower earners feel that their managers are equipped to deal with mental health concerns
  • One in three (37%) workers across all salary brackets struggle to deal with excessive workplace pressure while 37% also don’t feel that they can switch off outside of work hours

Workers on lower salaries feel less comfortable talking to their employer about mental health, according to a report entitled Why BWell from Barnett Waddingham. The research, which surveyed 3,000 UK employees, found that for those in the earnings bracket of £20,000 - £30,000 a year (into which the average UK salary falls), just two in five (40%) said they would be happy talking about mental health at work. Yet this rises to 50% among workers earning £50,000 - £60,000 a year, and 67% for those on £70,000 - £75,000.

According to the research, a lack of trust and training could be two of the biggest barriers to conversation and drivers of this trend. Among workers earning £20,000 - £30,000 a year, just one in four (25%) feel that their managers are equipped to effectively support employees with mental health issues, but this rises to 53% among the £70,000 - £75,000 bracket. When the same question was put to employers, however, almost three quarters (74%) felt line managers in their firm were adequately equipped for such conversations, indicating a worrying gap in perception between business leaders and their staff.

This isn’t good enough if businesses are serious about supporting their workforce.
Laura Matthews

Another explanation for employees on lower salaries not wanting to talk about mental health is that they feel their company isn’t interested in them as individuals. One in five (20%) workers on £20,000 - £30,0000 said that their employer shows no interest in them as a person, but this drops to 14% for those on £40,000 - £50,000 and one in ten (10%) for people on £70,000 - £75,000.

A major cause of mental health problems in the workplace is stress and according to the report, across all salary brackets more than a third (37%) of people struggle to deal with excessive workplace pressure, while a similar proportion (37%) do not feel that they can switch off outside of work hours. Both factors may be leading to a rise in presenteeism – when employees go into work when not well. A recent CIPD report indicated that presenteeism had tripled in the last eight years  while Barnett Waddingham’s study found that almost half (47%) of the UK’s workforce feels under pressure to go to work when they are not well.

Laura Matthews, workplace wellbeing consultant at Barnett Waddingham, said: “While some employers are really taking a lead on mental health, our research shows that it still feels like a taboo subject for employees, especially those on lower salaries who are most vulnerable if they lose their income. This isn’t good enough if businesses are serious about supporting their workforce.

“It’s been estimated that mental health problems at work cost the UK economy £35billion last year  so it’s in everyone’s interests that companies create an environment where problems can be discussed openly and honestly. A lot of businesses offer cut price or free gym membership to encourage a physically healthy workforce, but there is less emphasis on improving mental health.

“Line managers and senior management have a huge part to play when it comes to addressing this and it’s crucial that they receive the right training, adopt effective management styles and make conscious efforts to communicate with employees on a personal level and keep morale high.”

About the author

  • Laura Matthews

    Laura oversees our award winning Wellbeing solution, BWell for Barnett Waddingham. She specialises in Workplace Wellbeing within all types of organisations, building bespoke and holistic wellbeing strategies to meet the needs of the client.

    View Biography

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