Pro­fes­sor Bren­dan Kelly

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - MENTAL HEALTH -

FEWER than one in five em­ploy­ees in cor­po­rate Ire­land are ex­tremely sat­is­fied with their lives. More than one in five is ex­tremely or very stressed and there is a sense that pres­sures have in­creased in re­cent years. Al­most one in three re­ports more stress than two years ago.

These are just some of the head­line find­ings from the Vhi Health In­sights Re­port on men­tal health in the cor­po­rate work­place. Pub­lished last week, Mind Mat­ters: Re­silience in the Work­place is the first in a planned se­ries of in-depth re­search re­ports about the health of Ire­land’s cor­po­rate em­ploy­ees.

Men­tal health was cho­sen as the first theme be­cause it is a grow­ing con­cern for all em­ploy­ees, par­tic­u­larly women, those un­der 34 years of age, and peo­ple work­ing in the tech sec­tor.

But is­sues re­lat­ing to men­tal health af­fect ev­ery­one. One per­son in four will de­velop a men­tal ill­ness at some point in life. Ev­ery­one has fam­ily and friends who are af­fected in some way, or ap­pear at risk of developing anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion or other con­di­tions.

For many, work has an im­por­tant role to play. While work can con­trib­ute to stress and other prob­lems, it can also have a very pos­i­tive im­pact on well-be­ing, pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity, be­long­ing and achieve­ment.

Re­ward­ing work has unique po­ten­tial to boost self-es­teem and en­hance both men­tal and phys­i­cal health.

The Vhi Health In­sights Re­port sheds new and im­por­tant light on this area in cor­po­rate Ire­land, and high­lights both the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties for men­tal health in the Ir­ish work­place.

WHAT DID THE STUDY FIND?

To per­form the study, Vhi and mar­ket re­searchers B&A sur­veyed some 392 cor­po­rate em­ploy­ees, con­ducted in-depth in­ter­views with 10 ex­perts in the field, and held two in-depth tech­nol­ogy sec­tor staff mini-group in­ter­views.

The find­ings are, by turns, wor­ry­ing and re­as­sur­ing. There are three main wor­ries here: the level of stress among em­ploy­ees, negative trends over time, and the stigma as­so­ci­ated with stress and men­tal ill health.

First, it is deeply con­cern­ing that more than a third of cor­po­rate em­ploy­ees re­port that the stress in their cur­rent job has caused them to con­sider chang­ing jobs or ca­reers, and that one in five have missed work in the past year be­cause of stress, anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion.

This level of stress, at home or in work, is clearly prob­lem­atic and is not part of the nor­mal cut and thrust of liv­ing. Stress is cer­tainly an es­sen­tial part of life but there comes a point when stress reaches prob­lem­atic lev­els. And the level of stress re­ported in the Vhi sur­vey is far, far too high.

Sec­ond, many peo­ple see these prob­lems get­ting worse over re­cent years. More than three-quar­ters (78pc) of cor­po­rate em­ploy­ees be­lieve that men­tal health is­sues are of in­creas­ing con­cern, based on their own ex­pe­ri­ence and that of col­leagues.

A ma­jor­ity (67pc) feel they need to take more care of their men­tal health. Clearly, this is an area of grow­ing con­cern for em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers alike.

Third, tak­ing pos­i­tive steps to im­prove men­tal health is not al­ways sim­ple. Some 50pc of peo­ple sur­veyed feel they must dis­guise the stress they feel at work in or­der to main­tain their ca­reer prospects. This is an ex­cep­tion­ally dis­ap­point­ing find­ing.

The past few years have seen in­creased pub­lic aware­ness of stress, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. Men­tal health also fea­tures com­monly in pop­u­lar me­dia and on the in­ter­net, and it was hoped that this greater pub­lic dis­cus­sion would di­min­ish stigma. Clearly, while some progress has been made, there is still much more to be done.

SEEK­ING HELP

De­spite the prob­lems iden­ti­fied in the sur­vey, there are also pos­i­tive in­di­ca­tors that things are chang­ing. A ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ees sur­veyed (77pc) have some form of flex­i­ble work­place ar­range­ments in place and 70pc avail of at least one of these ar­range­ments.

The most pop­u­lar op­tion is the fa­cil­ity to start or leave work early or late, which is availed of by 39pc of those sur­veyed. The next most pop­u­lar ar­range­ments are work­ing from home (30pc) and flex­itime (28pc). These mea­sures work: em­ploy­ees who have a high sat­is­fac­tion with their work-life bal­ance re­port the high­est use of these spe­cial work­place ar­range­ments. We need more of these.

Peo­ple are also in­creas­ingly will­ing to seek help and, pre­dictably, turn to friends and fam­ily first, rather than work­place man­agers. Of all em­ploy­ees sur­veyed, 15pc are not sat­is­fied with their man­age­ment of work de­mands and 52pc have sought some form of help or ad­vice, most com­monly from friends and fam­ily (28pc).

Well­ness poli­cies at work also have a clear role to play, al­though the sur­vey sug­gests that one size does not fit all. For ex­am­ple, al­though show­ers and lock­ers (sep­a­rate to an on-site gym) are avail­able to 52pc of em­ploy­ees,

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