It is officially mental health week, yet just one in ten employees surveyed who have experienced certain mental health conditions sought help from their line manager over the past year.

This is according to research of UK consumers by Aviva1 released ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week 2023.

It also found that just 4 percent of employees surveyed said they would discuss their mental health with a work colleague and only 5 percent said they would speak to their colleagues in HR or a wellbeing officer.

There were small changes in attitudes compared to previous Aviva research carried out in February 2020.

Sophie Money, wellbeing manager at Aviva said: “The employee and employer experience has changed drastically in the three years that this research spans, with COVID-19 as the main driver of change. It is likely that many of the participants of this research had varying experiences of their own and colleagues’ mental health during this period, so it is interesting that we have not seen greater changes in attitudes over this time.”

Is the right mental health support being offered?

The research also found a significant disconnect between employee and employer attitudes to whether the right support was provided to those struggling with their mental health in the workplace.

Over three-quarters (79%) of employers surveyed have agreed that they are ‘good at recognising when team members/employees are under pressure’, yet only 44 percent of employees surveyed agreed their line manager is very good at recognising when they are under pressure. This, however, is a slightly smaller gap compared to 2020 when 77 percent of employers said they are ‘good at identifying when team members are under pressure’ but only 37 percent of employees agreed with this statement.

Colleague mental health

The low confidence of employees in their employer doesn’t seem to support the improvement of mental health conversations at work. When it comes to their colleagues, employees are mindful of mental health, though the research shows attitudes have changed over the past three years.

Some seven out of 10 (71%) of respondents said they were concerned about their colleagues with a mental health condition and did their best to help, down from 76 percent in 2020. Scepticism has also worsened with 8 percent being sceptical whether their colleague actually had ‘an issue’, up from 5 percent in 2020.

In 2020 nearly three quarters (74%) of both employees and employers believed the stigma towards mental health had decreased, but this has fallen to 59 percent of employees and 49 percent of employers who continue to think the same in 2023.

Greater education is needed

As education is key to reducing stigma, Aviva launched the Mental Health Toolkit for Line Managers in September 2021 to help improve informed conversations. Available to Group Protection and Health clients, the toolkit includes clinician-designed video modules and supporting content to empower line managers to spot the warning signs of poor mental health, have supportive conversations with their colleagues and address mental health concerns before these become more serious.

The toolkit has received more than 3,600 views since launch, suggesting that a growing number of managers understand the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace and ensuring their employees get support when they need it. Prompted by the positive reception of the toolkit for line managers, Aviva also released employee mental health videos in September 2022.

Sophie Money added:

“It’s good to see an improvement in the number of people seeking support. The change may be small but it’s a start and hopefully an indication that employees are more aware of the support available to them.

“Employers continue to have a vital role to play, ensuring that all employees can be themselves at work, and can feel confident that they would receive the support required when they need it. We hope that the tools we have provided continue to support this journey.”






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.