New research from PwC has shown that almost a quarter (23%) of employees don’t think that their organisations take staff wellbeing seriously. Meanwhile, two-fifths (39%) say that they have had to take time off work or cut down on their responsibilities in order to claw back their mental health.

More than half (54%) are currently employed at firms that do not provide mental-health resources such as counselling and subsidised gym memberships.

PwC people and organisations director Jo Salter says: “It’s becoming increasingly important for organisations to provide employees with support for their emotional and physical health at work. Healthier and happier staff perform better, stay in their business longer and reduce costs and risks for organisations. Understanding and addressing the root causes of poor employee wellbeing is the first step to resolving the underlying issues.”

Salter argues that collecting data from employees via wearable-tech devices could help resolve wellbeing issues by “pinpointing insights” to “bring targeted and effective change”.

But isn’t that a somewhat impersonal means of tackling what is, in fact, a deeply personal – not to mention complex – set of issues? Doesn’t reducing an employee to a stack of data just add to the wall that has built up around mental health? And would it not be more appropriate to simply be more open about the problem, and examine what kind of challenges individuals are wrestling with both inside and outside the workplace?

The Institute of Leadership and Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Last year we partnered with Business in the Community, Mind, CIPD, the Work Foundation and others on the UK’s largest survey of the way mental-health is handled in the workplace. One of the things that we say is very important in this field is opening up time to talk between organisations and their staff, and there have been some hugely encouraging developments on that front, such as National Time to Talk Day and the Lord Mayor Appeal’s This is Me green-ribbon campaign launched earlier this year – both of which encouraged greater conversation around mental health at work.

“Regarding the use of personal tech devices as a measure – yes, of course they’re useful. Many of us have Fitbits and other such bands, and they do provide important data. But the suggestion that they are somehow a substitute for being able to talk about mental health – not in a counselling or therapeutic sense, but in a way that shows a) you’re concerned and b) that you’re able to signpost somebody towards some more specialist help – is somewhat wide of the mark.”

Cooper explains: “what’s really valuable is showing that mental health isn’t something that, as a manger, you are scared of, or reluctant to engage with. If you see someone coming into work limping because they’ve picked up, say, a sports injury, you would comment on it. You would say ‘Oh, what have you done – is there anything I can do to help?’ Similarly, people with mental-health issues may seem slightly different; more down, less talkative. Their behaviour will change slightly, and the aware manager would be able to spot that and take the appropriate action.

“So absolutely, it’s great to talk about this, and the more we talk about it, the more mainstream and less marginalised it becomes. The ideal destination is for mental health to be seen in the round, as part of the workplace-wellbeing agenda – not just a hook for gym memberships and sponsored cycle rides.”

For further thoughts on how to promote wellbeing at work, check out this learning item from the Institute