Just 20% of employers have budget to help workers with mental health

Study finds number of Irish companies with some staff working remotely increased from 7% before the pandemic to 32% afterwards

Some 76 per cent of employers in Ireland believe they have a responsibility to help their workers with their mental health, but only 20 per cent have a budget for doing it, a survey of just over 1,500 firms to be published on Wednesday has found.

Healthy Workplace Ireland: A Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotion in Irish Firms, published by Cork University Business School, found 23 per cent of employers surveyed had a mental health plan, 22 per cent carried out some monitoring of their workers’ wellbeing and 32 per cent had a board level lead on the issue but the most common types of action taken by companies were those that did not involve an actual financial outlay.

“I think businesses are operating in a difficult environment at the moment,” said Dr Jane Bourke, a senior lecturer in economics at UCC and lead author of the report. “They have lots of competing priorities in terms of the cost-of-living crisis, attracting the skills and talent that they need and sometimes those are seen as the greater priorities.

“And workplace mental health is viewed differently to physical health. We have health and safety in relation to things that we can see physically like machinery or toxic chemicals or things like that. Whereas mental health to some extent is invisible.


“Businesses don’t always see the business case for it. They don’t know what will be the benefit to them if they invest in mental health. Will they see an improvement in absenteeism? Will they see greater productivity? They don’t actually know what the benefits will be for them specifically, and that’s an issue.”

The report is part of a wider project funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council intended to look at the various contributory factors to productivity, and the question of the return employers might expect for investing in areas like workplace mental health is to be the subject of further study.

However, Dr Bourke points to another piece of research that suggested those employers who provided training programmes for managers could see a 10-fold return on their spend.

Some 40 per cent of the firms with more than 50 employees reported absences due to mental health issues, with smaller businesses (10-19 employees) less commonly affected at 11 per cent but potentially more seriously impacted in instances where workers were ill. Almost half overall, 46 per cent, said absences due to mental health issues impacted on the functioning of their businesses.

The research, which was conducted between September and December of 2022, found more than half of all companies studied, 53 per cent, thought the issue had become more serious over the previous 12 months.

Presenteeism was also one of the ways in which it manifested itself, many employers suggested, with 27 cent of all companies believing that employees sometimes came to work when they were ill, with pressure to meet deadlines (39 per cent) the most common explanation.

The proportion of firms actively taking steps to support their staff lags some way behind England, the research found, but more than half of larger firms in Ireland, 57 per cent, do provide supports and signpost them. Among the smallest companies, however, the figure is just 20 per cent.

The study found that the number of Irish companies with some staff working remotely had increased from 7 per cent before the pandemic to 32 per cent after it, a shift that has had significant impacts. “Most employers saw the benefits of having employees who were remote or hybrid working – they saw it as being quite positive in terms of employee happiness and productivity. But they said there’s an issue there as well in terms of teamwork,” said Dr Bourke.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times