Board level action on employee wellbeing and mental health inadequate, poll finds

The Governance Institute and governance recruitment specialist The Core Partnership have considered employee wellbeing and mental health at board level. It was found that just 45% of boards have considered these issues, 34% have not and the remaining 21% of respondents were unsure if their board had or not. Furthermore, when questioned as to whether or not their organisation does enough to support employees’ mental wellbeing, fewer than half (49%) said ‘yes’ and just under a third (31%) said ‘no’. 

Those respondents who felt that their organisations did do enough to support employee wellbeing gave a number of examples. One respondent said that ‘There is currently a wellbeing awareness drive in the company and the new office refurbishment has been done with employee wellbeing, breakout spaces, quiet areas, social areas, etc, in mind’. Another stated: ‘We have a proactive approach to mental health – particularly stress at work.’ While another respondent said ‘We have mental health first aiders, we have medical support helplines and services available to employees, line manager training and encouraging employees to publicly talk about their experience.’

Of those boards that are engaged with employee wellbeing and mental health, at least one board has discussed the impact that increased pressure and change at work has on mental wellbeing and has begun discussing what more could be done to alleviate this in a sustained way. Another ‘is involved and understanding the issues affecting employees and how this can have a negative effect on business.’

Overall, the majority of respondents felt that their organisations could do more, with one stating ‘As someone who has experienced mental health issues in the past, I am not sure that the provision that organisations do make is either as appropriate or as accessible as they think it is.’ Another went further and said ‘Organisations put a lot pressure on employees in order to achieve their bosses’ bonus objectives and much stress emanates from fulfilling these… Organisations should truly commit to stopping senior executives pour daily pressure on staff.’

Some respondents raised specific issues, including:

• Working practices: ‘The right noises are made, including championing at ExCo level, but the structures in place and the aggressive drive to achieve more with fewer resources (under the guise of “smarter ways of working”) do not support employees’ wellness in practice.’
• Resources: ‘We did start to support the Time to Change movement but then resources got tighter and no one had the time or resource to continue the work, and it didn’t have buy in at a senior level, so sadly lapsed.’
• Culture: ‘As a company with a devolved structure we do not offer the level of support and care I have witnessed in other companies. With a rather “Macho” culture, any sign of unwellness, physical or mental, is considered to be weak.’
• Workload: ‘We have undergone a number of restructurings with no obvious support offered to those affected either directly or indirectly, ie due to increased or changed workload.’
• Management buy-in: ‘There are various initiatives underway but whether or not it is taken seriously by senior management remains to be seen.’

“It is clear from the results of our poll that the majority of support for workforce mental health is coming from external sources. Some 45% of respondents stated that they have an Employee Assistance Programme, but only 2% have a mental health champion. Lack of training of line managers is also a concern,” says Peter Swabey, Policy and Research Director at ICSA: The Governance Institute.

“The support of mental wellbeing needs to be approached as a long-term and integral part of overall employee wellbeing. Rather than treating individual mental health issues reactively, a much more holistic approach needs to be implemented. Training managers to spot the signs, having a culture where people can talk openly about their mental health without being judged and encouraging reporting which can support discussion at board level would make a big difference.”


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