During the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week (15-21 May) data released by Grant Thornton UK shows that almost two thirds (61%) of mid-market business leaders say the uncertain economic climate is negatively affecting their stress levels and mental wellbeing.   

Grant Thornton’s bi-monthly Business Outlook Tracker research, which polls mid-market business leaders, showed that economic optimism plummeted -7% since February 2023, -3% below the rolling average since the research began in 2021. Leaders’ confidence in the funding position of their businesses has also taken a hit, dipping -11% since February, -6% below the rolling average.  

Correspondingly, investment in wellbeing and mental health is an increasing priority for mid-market business leaders. Around two thirds (65%) intend to increase their investment in mental health in the coming year (up +14% from 2022).  63% say mental health forms a key part of their inclusion, diversity and wellbeing strategy, up from 51% in 2022.  

Employers’ awareness of the importance of investing in mental health has led to an increased number of businesses offering counselling, training, providing mental health first aiders and checking in with their people more regularly.  

Grant Thornton UK people advisory associate director Maddie Wollerton Blanks said: “Leading a business is a high pressure, high intensity role even in the steadiest of economic climates.  Whilst leaders have demonstrated remarkable levels of resilience over the last few years, this research shows that the ongoing pressures of managing the uncertainty are having a negative effect on wellbeing.  

“Whilst our study looks specifically at leaders of mid-market businesses, wellbeing is vital to productivity for all employees. Having a mentally healthy workforce at all levels of the business isn’t an optional extra, it’s a commercial imperative.   Healthy people are better able to respond to stress and pressure, which is why it’s vital that employers invest in wellbeing and mental health support for their people and for themselves.”  

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Five ways employers can help their people to manage stress in a high-pressure environment 

  1. Hybrid, flexible working that genuinely feels inclusive supports wellbeing – 91% of 2206 respondents to an internal Grant Thornton survey said that being able to work when and where works best them supports their wellbeing – 93% said it also allows them to be more productive and feel more in control  
  2. Offer access to independently provided counselling and/or trained Mental Health First Aiders (colleagues who are trained to listen, reassure and respond – even in a crisis) provides a valuable resource for people to confidentially discuss things that are affecting them 
  3. Visible role models and open discussion through internal channels to highlight mental wellbeing issues creates opportunities to learn and fosters an inclusive, supportive culture – Read Bethan’s story – Battling Burnout and find out more about how you can bring your I&D strategy to life 
  4. Wellbeing days – in recognition of busy, pressured periods within the business offering wellbeing days, additional paid days to be used within a certain timeframe, are a great way to encourage people to take time off to care for their wellbeing 

Supporting financial wellbeing with employee benefits – providing benefits such as life assurance, income protection and critical illness will give employees a stronger sense of confidence in their own financial circumstance.