More than half of HR executives have had to provide mental health and stress counselling to colleagues in the workplace over the past two years highlighting the need for greater awareness and support, new research* from MetLife Employee Benefits reveals.

Its study shows 53% of HR staff have found themselves providing counselling – more than double the number who have had to settle disputes among staff.

HR departments are becoming more concerned about mental health issues – 67% of those questioned say it is a major issue at their workplace.

Official figures** estimate the cost to the UK economy, the National Health Service and society as a whole at around £105 billion with around one in four people experiencing mental health issues.

MetLife Employee Benefits believes the impact on HR departments underlines the need for more training and support for line managers as well as HR teams as part of a commitment to breaking down barriers around mental health issues in the workplace.

Tom Gaynor, Employee Benefits Director of MetLife UK, said: “The pressure on HR departments from dealing with mental health issues is growing and shows the strain they are under dealing with issues they are not necessarily trained for.  It also highlights a significant gap in training and the capability of line managers to fulfil this business critical role.

“It is positive to the extent that employees are willing to talk about and acknowledge that they are under stress but clearly it is preferable that staff do not get to the point where they have to seek help.

“Addressing mental health issues in the workplace does not need to be expensive and there are simple steps that organisations can take such as conducting stress audits and making full use of employee benefits and wellness programmes.”

The research demonstrates that HR staff are increasingly being asked to deal with issues which are not strictly within their job description – 76% say they are surprised about the level of personal and private information staff tell them while 22% say they have provided marriage and relationship counselling.

MetLife itself is working with Maudsley Learning as part of an ongoing programme focusing on stress and mental health including highlighting the need to increase awareness of organisational resilience and training to help overcome negative feelings at work.

It provides a range of health and wellbeing information and other support services to employers and their staff via its group income protection policy, ProActive Protection, including support to help alleviate stress and build resilience. The Wellbeing Hub includes a dedicated area for managers to help them to support employees.