Over a quarter of SME employees don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace

Published on 23/03/2022 by Laura Burgess

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how companies address employee mental health in the workplace. In this article, Capterra looks at whether employees feel supported and comfortable discussing their mental health with their employer.

Mental health in the workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic has been stress-inducing for many, especially as it has drastically changed the way in which we work. Heightened risk factors —unemployment, burnout, isolation, and financial insecurity —are likely to have taken their toll on some employees’ mental health. Attitudes towards mental health in the workplace were already starting to shift pre-pandemic. But how has awareness of employee mental wellbeing developed since the global health crisis started?

Are employers taking mental health seriously? Are they using corporate wellness tools to improve the health habits of staff? Capterra surveyed 712 employees of SMEs who have been in the same job since January 2020 to examine the correlation between the pandemic and their mental health at work. The full methodology can be found at the bottom of this article.

Priority of mental health issues in the workplace

Mental health issues, whether related to the pandemic, work-related stress, or something else entirely, deserve to be taken seriously by employers. Capterra’s survey found that one in four respondents (24%) think that addressing mental health issues amongst employees isn’t a high priority for their company (17% said it was a ‘low priority’ and 7% said it was ‘no priority’).

Bar chart showing how much of a priority it is for a company to address mental health amongst employees

Addressing mental health issues amongst workers is a crucial part of an employee engagement strategy. If a company offers support and shows that they care about employees’ wellbeing, workers may feel more motivated and confident at work.

But it may be quite daunting for employees to share their personal issues with their managers. And how would they want to do it? Capterra’s survey found that 60% of respondents would prefer to discuss their mental health with a team leader or manager during an in-person meeting. 8% said they would prefer to do it via an anonymous employee survey, whilst a further 8% of respondents would do it via email.

Did you know? Survey software can be used to create electronic surveys or polls, which are useful to send out to employees to fill in anonymously. This can help SMEs gather overall data and feedback on workers’ mental wellbeing and help to improve the company’s mental health initiatives.

COVID-19 and employee mental health 

Those who participated in Capterra’s survey were asked to describe their mental health before the pandemic, during the first year in 2020, and now in early 2022. A combined total of 68% of respondents noted that, prior to the pandemic, they had positive mental health, with 24% saying they felt ‘excellent’ and 44% ‘good’. Unsurprisingly, mental health declined during 2020 as only 41% of respondents described their mental health at this time as positive (12% felt ‘excellent’ and 29% were ‘good’). From this data, we can see a general downward trend in the mental health of employees as the pandemic set in.

Bar chart showing a comparison of positive mental health before the pandemic, during 2020 and early 2022 

The pandemic has definitely presented challenges for most people in one way or another. In the workplace, many SMEs have had no choice but to accelerate their digital transformation. Some employees may have been under pressure to digitally upskill. The adoption of tools, such as remote work and video conferencing software, has made it possible for employees to work from home. Workers may have initially found the situation difficult due to loneliness and the sudden lack of human interaction with colleagues or clients.

As we move into 2022, it seems that positive mental health is ever so slowly increasing again as highlighted by a combined total of 49% of survey respondents describing their current mental health as “good” (33%) or “excellent” (16%). As we are now returning to some level of normal, organisations are adopting policies such as flexible hours and hybrid models, amongst others, which may be contributing to improving mental health in the workplace.

The value of mental health resources for employees

Mental health resources can certainly help support employees with mental health concerns. Capterra asked survey respondents which resources would be of most value to their mental health. These ranged from taking mental health days and paid time off to having access/referral to a trained professional, such as a psychologist, counsellor, or therapist.

Bar graph showing the most valuable mental health resources for employees

Flexible work schedules proved to be the most valuable mental health resource for a combined total of 83% of survey respondents (49% said it is ‘very valuable’ and 34% ‘somewhat valuable’). Flexibility in the workplace may help to improve employees’ mental well-being and stress levels. If employees can schedule their own time they are more likely to be focused and productive with their work, but may also have a better work-life balance.

Discussing mental health concerns with employers

More than one in five employees (22%) surveyed by Capterra have indicated to their employer that they were struggling with their mental health at some point since the pandemic started. Most of those who were surveyed (42%) said they did not need to discuss this with their manager as they don’t consider themselves to have mental health issues. Alarmingly, nearly a quarter of employees (24%) surveyed by Capterra admitted that they do not talk to their employer about their mental health issues because they do not feel comfortable enough. 

Bar graph showing whether employees talk to their employer about their mental health struggles during the pandemicCapterra asked those who did discuss their mental health issues with their employer to share what action was taken as a result of this. The most popular responses showed that their employer:

  • Took time to actively listen (49%)
  • Encouraged the employee to take time off (47%)
  • Delegated tasks/reduced workload (27%)
  • Scheduled more frequent check-ins (25%)

Most of these employees (87%) found the reaction of their employer to be useful as 47% of respondents said it was ‘very helpful’ and 40% said it was ‘somewhat helpful’. Creating awareness and prioritising the mental health of employees has long-term benefits. It is cost-effective for employers to implement a mental health initiative and it reflects well in the company culture.

Workers with mental health issues may often take sick days or, if they do show up, may not be very productive or efficient. Of course, most employers do care about their workers but they do also have an ethical obligation. Providing mental health support through the likes of corporate wellness programs will keep staff members happier and can also help increase employee retention.

Did you know? Implementing a corporate wellness program is possible through the use of corporate wellness software. These tools can be used by employers to incorporate various health activities, such as fitness classes, seminars, and health coaching into the daily schedule of staff members. Employees can set and track goals and also receive incentives, such as gift cards or company swag, for their participation. 

Breaking the stigma around mental health at work

The topic of mental health tends to have a stigma attached to it, which may cause employees to stay quiet rather than reach out for the support that they might require at work. Over a quarter of survey respondents (28%) said they feel uncomfortable talking about mental health at their company (18% are ‘somewhat uncomfortable’ and 10% are ‘very uncomfortable’). It seems there is still room for employers to recognise and encourage staff members to confide in them with any mental health issues that they may have whether work-related or not. 

How comfortable do employees feel talking about mental health in the workplace - bar graph Who would employees feel comfortable talking to at work about any mental health concerns? 32% of employees Capterra surveyed said that they would not discuss their mental health with anyone at work but would seek external help. 29% of survey respondents said they would talk to their manager first if they felt that their mental health was in decline. A further 20% of respondents would confide in a colleague whilst only 10% would talk to an HR professional. 

Tips for SMEs: Workplace mental health strategy
A mental health strategy can help employees to better manage their stress levels and, ultimately, creates a healthy work environment. Organisations can offer managers education or training in mental health and provide employees with therapy sessions and/or health insurance. Generous sick leave and an employee assistance program are also helpful. Finally, providing nutritious food options for those working on-site and discounts to local gyms or sports centres can help to promote positive mental wellbeing for employees.

Key takeaways…

  • Despite the pandemic changing the way companies address mental health issues in the workplace, a quarter of employees still think that this isn’t a priority for their company.
  • Whilst there was a decline in positive mental health amongst employees during the first year of the pandemic, it is starting to rise again slightly in early 2022. 
  • Nearly a quarter of employees surveyed by Capterra still do not feel comfortable enough talking about their mental health with their employer. 
  • Employees would feel comfortable talking to their manager about their mental health as their first port of call if they had to discuss it in the workplace. 
  • Corporate wellness software can help employers implement a workplace mental health strategy, which may help to reduce health costs (such as sick days due to work-related stress) and, more importantly, improve employee morale.

In the next article in this two-part series, we further discuss the benefits of a corporate wellness program in order to help employees’ mental health in the workplace.

Looking for corporate wellness software? Check out our catalogue!

Survey methodology: 

To collect data for this report, Capterra conducted an online survey in February 2022. Of the total respondents, we were able to identify 712 respondents who fit within the following criteria:

  • Australian resident
  • Aged over 18 years old and under 65 years old
  • Employed by a company with under 250 employees
  • Working either full-time or part-time 
  • Has not changed jobs between January 2020 and February 2022

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.


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