Three in five UK business leaders believe employers now have more responsibility for their employees’ mental and physical health beyond the workplace, a major piece of research suggests.
The same number (63%) also recognise that expectations around employer-provided health support have changed “notably” since the beginning of the pandemic, particularly when it comes to mental health.
The findings are based on the views of over 4,000 office workers – many of which were working remotely due to COVID-19 – and 1,000 businesses in four markets (the UK, USA, Singapore and UAE) by global healthcare provider Aetna International.
The research is part of an ongoing investigation into the changing needs of the global workforce and the response of employers in multiple markets.
A spokesperson for Aetna International said that the findings suggest that businesses have a better understanding of employee health concerns than they did 18 months ago and have already taken action to alleviate some of these pressures.
Globally, close to two thirds (63%) of workers say working for an employer that provides mental health support is now more important to them than it was a year ago and over half (54%) of businesses claim their company has improved the provision of mental health support and benefits that support employee wellbeing, such as flexible working.
However, the research also suggests that employers still consistently over-estimate the quality and impact of the health benefits they offer.
In the UK, four in ten businesses currently rate the support their company provides for stress as ‘good’, but just under a quarter (23%) of employees who work from home and three in ten (32%) of those still working in an office say the same. In fact, around a fifth (22%) of UK employees working remotely actually think the support for stress provided by their company is ‘poor’ – although this has improved significantly when compared to before the pandemic, when 41% more workers rated their company’s support for stress as poor.
In addition, while a third (33%) of UK workers surveyed recently rated their employer’s support for mental health issues (such as stress and anxiety) as ‘good’, closer to half (44%) of UK businesses thought this was the case. Despite this discrepancy, this has again improved compared to pre-pandemic, when only 25% of employees felt their company offered good support for mental health conditions.
Damian Lenihan, executive director for Europe at Aetna International, said it is “encouraging” to see that employers have recognised the increasing importance of robust health and wellbeing support, particularly when it comes to benefits and interventions designed to support mental health and wellbeing.
He said: “There’s no doubt the pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental and emotional resilience; this year, businesses everywhere need to consider their role in addressing this burden. At Aetna International for example we’re planning to work with our employees, customers and members as part of our ‘building better mental health together’ programme, to try to tackle some of the mental health challenges we all face.”
Lenihan said that while it is positive to see that the perceptions of employers are now more aligned with the experiences of their employees, the research suggests there is still more do to ensure health benefits and HR strategies are “not only fit for purpose today, but also for the future”.
He said: “The views of employers and their employees remain polarised when it comes to the steps businesses need to take to strengthen workplace wellbeing provisions.”
The research also found that over half (52%) of UK workers currently believe that their employer should be spending more on health benefits and resources to help them stay healthy, but only around a third (36%) of businesses agreed. In addition, a fifth (21%) of UK employees stated that health support from their employer has not improved at all since the beginning of the pandemic, suggesting some businesses have struggled to invest enough in health and well-being during this challenging period.