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Home / Resources / Workplace wellbeing: is pharma immune?

Workplace wellbeing: is pharma immune?


Mental health in the workplace is the subject of a recent UK government report, Thriving at work, detailing how employers can better support the mental health of all people in employment, including those with existing mental health problems or poor wellbeing.

The report, published in October 2017, was commissioned by the UK prime minister Theresa May as part of the PM’s pledge to employ the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society”.

And not before time, because Business in the Community’s (BITC) most recent Mental Health at Work report, published earlier in the same month, revealed just how big a problem workplace mental health can be:

  • Three out of every five (60%) employees have experienced mental health issues due to work or where work was a related factor
  • Almost one in three (31%) employees have been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue
  • However, less than a quarter (24%) of managers have received any training in mental health, and 49% of managers would welcome some specific basic training in mental health

The BITC report is based on data from across a variety of industries within the UK, and the pharma industry no exception. For many employees, the nature of working for a pharmaceutical company can mean a heavy workload and, often, even heavier subject matter – spending your days working with adverse-event and mortality rates, for example, can take its toll. The sales force, for example, can have the added pressures of being remote, deskless and time-poor, all of which can result in a fragile division between work and home life. All of this can make the pharma workforce vulnerable to mental health issues.

Another worrying statistic to come out of the recent research is that while 76% of those who have experienced a mental health issue because of work feel that colleagues care about their wellbeing, only 11% disclosed it specifically to a line manager, suggesting that the culture of silence over mental health at work largely persists.

Managers can help by being mindful of aspects of the job that may present challenges for individuals. These can include being mindful of crunch periods such as conferences or drug launches, when employees might need to put in extra hours to keep up with the workload, as well as broader issues such as connectivity with remote workers, or fostering a culture where the norm is to leave the office ‘on time’. Better still, a proactive approach to making mental wellbeing a part of your workplace culture shows employees that they are valued and ensures that mental health is on the agenda and open for discussion.

The charity Mind recommends implementing a Wellness Action Plan (WAP) for all employees, not just those with existing mental health difficulties, such that every employee is given the same opportunity to access the support they need when they need it.

The Thriving at work report suggests that digital communications have the potential to provide low-cost, scalable support for employees, and even goes so far as to recommend that NHS bodies provide clear ratings for apps and other digital platforms that provide mental health support.

For a tailored, company-specific approach to protecting your employees’ mental wellbeing, bespoke digital learning that deals specifically with the challenges faced within your company can be invaluable, and rolling it out to your entire workforce, for example as part of your onboarding process, is an effective way to make it part of the ongoing conversation.

At Sponge, we have demonstrated this through the inclusion of mental wellbeing as part of a bespoke Health & Safety training module for a global pharmaceutical company. Harnessing the power of digital to help your workplace expand from patient-centric to person-centric can make wellbeing at work an integral part of your company’s culture.