Opinion: Is supporting mental health a priority within engineering?

As with any job, it’s imperative that engineering professionals take the time to reflect on their mental health and consider the extent to which their employer has support in place, should their role start to take a negative toll on their mental wellbeing, says Paul Gibbens, Director at Hays, specialising in engineering.


Our recent Future of Engineering survey, in partnership with The Engineer, provides exclusive insights into the experiences of engineers, including the reasons why there are significant levels of stress across the sector, what kind of mental health advice and support employers offer as a result, and if there is an open dialogue to speak about stress within their organisation.

Despite some mental health support, there is room for improvement

Our research reveals that, whilst 69 per cent of engineering professionals rate their mental health as good to very good, almost a third (30 per cent) rate their mental health as moderate to poor. On top of this, 15 per cent of engineers say they have or are currently experiencing a mental health condition because of their job, and a further 25 per cent say they are somewhat struggling mentally due to their role. Notably, this is just the number of respondents who were willing to express their struggles in the survey.

Engineering is a typically male-dominated industry, with only 12 per cent of respondents to our survey being women, with men often believed to be less willing to open up about their mental wellbeing than women. According to research by The Priory Group, 40 per cent of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health and 29 per cent cite being “too embarrassed” as the underlying reason why they don’t talk about their mental health.  

With mental health concerns on the rise in recent years, exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic, it's crucial that organisations have clearly communicated and have easily accessible plans in place for professionals who are struggling. Our research shows that nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of engineers say their employer offers mental health advice and support, including access to counselling services (74 per cent), mental health first aiders (66 per cent) and flexible working options (57 per cent).

However, just under a quarter (24 per cent) of engineers say their employer does not offer mental health advice and support. Ultimately, this number is too high, and these organisations must do better going forward. Arguably, it’s just as important to dispel the stigma around mental health as it is to offer support to those who need it, so engineering professionals feel they can seek out and receive the help they might require, without viewing speaking out as embarrassing or a weakness. As it stands, men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women and only 36 per cent of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men, according to research by the Mental Health Foundation.

Many engineers experience stress, as communication and support falls short

Our research found that only 11 per cent of engineers say they don’t experience any stress from their job. On the other hand, almost two thirds (63 per cent) of engineers say they experience moderate to extreme job stress, followed by 26 per cent of engineers who experience mild job stress. There are several factors causing such high levels of stress amongst engineers, with the top reason cited as workloads and volume of work (68 per cent). Another contributing factor is the lack of resource, as many organisations are short staffed; the findings indicate that the ongoing skills shortages, affecting many sectors including engineering, have a negative, knock-on effect on the mental wellbeing of workers. The other main factors engineers reported as causing them stress are management styles (50 per cent) and pressure to meet targets and deadlines (47 per cent).

With this in mind, it’s crucial for employers to create an environment where staff feel confident to discuss their mental health when necessary. Our research reveals that, whilst 45 per cent of engineers say their employer communicates and offers tools to support stress at work, 35 per cent say they don’t and 20 per cent are unsure. Unfortunately, of those engineers who say they experience stress at work, over half (51 per cent) haven’t spoken to their employer or manager about it. Engineers feel reluctant to open up because they wouldn’t feel comfortable disclosing that they have felt stress at work (39 per cent), they don’t think their employer would be able to help or support them (34 per cent) and they think it would affect their career negatively if they spoke about their stress at work (19 per cent).

Engineers ought to feel reassured that speaking out will lead to tangible solutions to reduce job stress. Some employers are guilty of treating the mental wellbeing of their employees as a tick box, by suggesting they have actions in place to look after staff but failing to implement any when it comes down to it. Of the engineers (49 per cent) who said they did speak to their manager about their job stress, 43 per cent said it wasn’t a positive outcome. Having an open dialogue is a good start, but the steps taken after such conversations are essential for acknowledging and accommodating the growing mental health struggles engineers face today, to eventually improve mental health.

Paul Gibbens, Director at Hays, specialising in engineering