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Loneliness leads to high mental health risk for 33% of employees, report shows

33% of employees were found to have a high mental health risk

A third of UK workers have a high mental health risk driven by loneliness, a report by healthcare provider Telus Health has found. 

The health provider highlighted that workers aged under 40 are 80% more likely to lack trusted workplace relationships, compared to workers over 50.

Workers in the UK without trusted workplace relationships are three and a half times more likely to feel isolated compared to those with trusted relationships, the findings showed.

Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research and total wellbeing at Telus Health, told HR magazine that a lack of trusted relationships at work can cause employees to feel isolated.

She said: “Without trust, an individual is more likely to experience anxiety, and there is a lack of social support to manage stress. 

“This can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation, even with frequent social interaction. 

“These factors increase the risk of mental health issues and can also have physical health implications due to the strain it creates.”

Rebecca Holt, co-founder of Working Mindset, told HR magazine that younger employees are less likely to report feeling lonely than older employees.

She said: “The huge shift in working practices during and following the Covid-19 pandemic changed the whole connection landscape for employees. We all have less opportunity to connect with our colleagues. 

“But this has disproportionately impacted younger workers who want more face-to-face contact. 

“Older employees may also be more likely to be open about feelings of loneliness and therefore seek to address this.”

Read more: Should HR leaders be concerned about an epidemic of loneliness?

Of the 3,000 UK employees surveyed, 33% were found to have a high mental health risk and 41% had a moderate mental health risk.

A third (33%) of those with a high mental health risk reported diagnosed anxiety or depression, which reduced to 7% of employees in the moderate risk group.

Almost a quarter (23%) of workers feel their workplace lacks support and 20% rated their employer’s mental health benefits and services as poor, while 25% are unaware these resources are available. 

The report also showed that employees who said they do not feel valued or respected (12%) or supported (23%) by colleagues were twice as likely to report that their mental health adversely affects their productivity at work than those who felt valued, respected and supported.

In some instances employers have a legal obligation to support employees with their mental health, Crowley Woodford, partner and European head of employment at law firm Ashurst, noted.

He said: “There may be a legal obligation on employers where an employee is suffering from mental ill-health and this amounts to a disability

“The condition must have a substantial adverse effect on an employee's day to day activities. 

“As soon as an employer is aware that an employee is disabled, they must make reasonable adjustments and if they do not do so they may be exposed to an uncapped disability discrimination claim.”

Read more: Burnout affects a fifth of UK employees as long-term sick hits record high

Suzie Dawes, HR and people expert at occupational charity Caba, explained that employers should foster a culture of inclusion to ensure employees feel able to discuss their mental wellbeing.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Employers should aim to foster an open environment where employees can discuss their emotions and stress-related concerns.

“For example, encouraging regular conversations with check-ins between employees and line managers can be a simple way to build a trusted workplace relationship and open the door to providing help with depression and anxiety.”

Dawes added that feedback forums and employee assistance programmes could also help employees deal with stress.

She continued: “Using anonymous feedback mechanisms and forums to express any concerns can support employees wellbeing.

“Implementing mentorship programs and support networks where employees can share experiences and seek advice can also contribute to a healthy culture. 

“Furthermore, offering employee assistance programs (EAPs) that provide counselling and mental health resources can significantly aid stress-related issues.”

Telus Health surveyed 3,000 UK employees for its Mental Health Index between 13 January 2024 and 22 January 2024. The Index was based on a response scoring system that turned individual responses into point values. Higher point values were associated with better mental health and less mental health risk.