ALMOST a third (31%) of employees in Wales don’t feel comfortable opening up about their mental health issues and concerns to anyone at work, a new survey shows. 

The findings come from Just Eat for Business for Mental Health Awareness Week – which takes place between the 9th and 15th May – to encourage employers to provide a safe space for employees to discuss mental health concerns, including stress, anxiety and burnout. 

It’s concerning that a large proportion of the region’s employees don’t feel able to ask for help from colleagues, HR professionals or employers, given that the survey also revealed many of us significantly struggle with mental health issues whilst at work. 

Of those surveyed, two fifths (44%) admit often feeling burnout due to work – described as a ‘state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive stress’ (World Health Organization) – while 13% say they always feel the tiring effects of overworking. 

For those who struggle with poor mental health, the survey found that 1 in 3 employees find maintaining a healthy work/life balance to be the most stressful aspect of work. 

Other stressful situations include meeting deadlines and tackling workload (26%), while 16% of those surveyed struggle most when handling disagreements with colleagues.

It’s not surprising that it’s hard maintaining a work/life balance – even for those who are working remotely – as these feelings have a huge knock-on effect on our personal lives.

This is clear in the findings, with 2 out of 3 employees admitting that workplace stress has negatively affected their personal life, while 27% of those surveyed in the region struggle to switch off in the evenings after work or when on annual leave.

And with 70 million work days lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK – which costs approximately £2.4 billion annually – it’s crucial that employers look to prioritise promoting constructive conversations while at work, and improving mental health. 

One way for businesses to do this is to provide regular opportunities for socialisation – such as catered lunches or after-work socials – which help to foster a friendlier work atmosphere, and in turn will help employees feel more comfortable with colleagues and employers alike.

For Robin Dunbar, Psychologist at the University of Oxford, it’s vital that Welsh organisations provide opportunities for team bonding in order to promote a healthy work/life balance and sustain our mental health while in the office.

He states: “This whole process of creating a bonded community depends on engagement in various activities, one of which is eating or drinking together, and that just creates a sense of belonging at work. It has huge knock-on consequences for your health, physical health and mental well-being, by virtue of forming friendships. In addition, it fosters a sense of loyalty to the organisation.”

Dr Anneli Gascoyne, Gascoyne, Associate Professor in Occupational Psychology at Goldsmiths University, weighs in on the importance of stepping away from work in order to provide healthy breaks from stress: “When we’re feeling behind on work, or perhaps the workload pile seems endless, there can be a strong temptation not to take a break.

“But trying to maintain focus for long periods of time is also counterproductive: over time, we’re depleting our mental energy, getting more stressed, and often don’t notice that happening. By skipping lunch or breaks we’re potentially making that situation worse.”

Matt Ephgrave, Managing Director of Just Eat for Business also commented on the findings, saying: “With the last two years proving particularly stressful for many, it’s crucial that Welsh employers take the time to provide opportunities for employees to feel more valued, connected and listened-to while at work.

“And although it’s essential to establish an approachable way to raise specific concerns at work – to HR departments or employers – regularly scheduled team socials and catered lunches can be a great way to gently encourage colleagues to establish strong bonds.”

The findings are released for Mental Health Week (9-15th May), hosted annually by the Mental Health Foundation, which encourages us to focus on achieving good mental health.