A major survey by the mental health charity Mind has revealed that workplace wellbeing support is worse in the public sector than in the private sector. The charity surveyed over 12,000 employees across the public and private sectors and found a higher prevalence of mental health problems in the public sector, as well as a lack of support available when people do speak up.
The UK public sector employs over 5.4 million people, almost 3 million of whom are employed by central Government alone. Mind’s survey found that public sector workers were over a third more likely to say their mental health was poor than their peers in the private sector (15 per cent versus 9 per cent), and far more likely to say they have felt anxious at work on several occasions over the last month (53 per cent compared to 43 per cent).
The impact on the sector is significant. Public sector survey respondents said that, on average, they had taken nearly three days off sick in the last year because of their mental health, compared to just under one day on average for workers in the private sector. Almost half (48 per cent) of public sector workers who had experienced mental ill health at their current organisation have had time off because of their mental health, compared with less than a third (32 per cent) of the private sector workforce*.
The survey indicates that the sector as a whole is more aware of the problem than the private sector. The results show that public sector workers are more likely to disclose that they have a mental health problem, are more likely to be up front about it if they do take time off because of their mental health and are more likely to report that the workplace culture makes it possible for people to speak openly about their mental health*. However, when they do open up, support isn’t always forthcoming. Less than half (49 per cent) of people said they felt supported when they disclosed mental health problems, compared with three in five (61 per cent) in the private sector.
Mind is calling on the next government to make mental health in the workplace a key priority. To do this, they want to see the next government promote, recognise and share effective in-work solutions for employers, including wellbeing initiatives and Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index, support the continuation of the Independent Mental Health and Employers Review and commit to implementing the recommendations which will have a positive impact in supporting employers to be a full partner in driving this change.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “Mental health is one of the biggest domestic issues facing the next government. More people than ever are speaking out about mental health and demanding change. As a nation our expectations for better mental health for all are higher than ever and the next government must rise to this challenge.
“A vital part of changing the lives of people with mental health problems is to tackle the culture of fear and silence in the workplace that stops people opening up about what they are experiencing. This data shows that the public sector in particular is making progress here. But it’s also vital that when people do speak out they get the right help and support at the right time. It’s clear there is still a long way to go in both the public and private sector to address the gap between people asking for support and actually getting what they need.
“By promoting wellbeing for all staff, tackling the causes of work-related mental health problems and supporting staff who are experiencing mental health problems, organisations can help keep people at work and create mentally healthy workplaces where people are supported to perform at their best.
“The current government funded Mind to put in place support for emergency services staff, through our Blue Light programme, but it is clear that workplace wellbeing needs to be a priority throughout the public sector. We must see the next government commit to making change, as government and also as an employer themselves.”
Mind was awarded LIBOR funding to develop and deliver a major programme of mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services across England from April 2015. Additional funding has meant that the services can now be rolled out across Wales. A number of organisations have signed the Blue Light pledge to develop action plans to support their staff and volunteers, and hundreds of individual employees have signed up to be Blue Light Champions.
*Amended 18 July 2017 to correct an error. The original wording was: Almost half (48 per cent) of public sector workers have had time off because of their mental health, compared with less than a third (32 per cent) of the private sector workforce.
Mental health at work