More than three-quarters of researchers believe that their employer has handled the pandemic well, according to the latest Mental Wellbeing in Research Survey. But, despite this positive feedback, the sector still has much to do with a significant proportion of researchers experiencing mental health issues over the past year.

Sign up to our Thursday webinar to hear the full results

Conducted annually by strategic insight agency Opinium and MRS – the UK’s professional body for research, insight and analytics – the research reveals that 76% of sector professionals approve of their employer’s actions over the past 18 months, rising to 83% for those working in-house or client-side. 

These are positive results for a sector that has been put under pressure throughout the pandemic, both in terms of resources and the increased significance attached to its work. This is the third year that the research, which explores researchers’ mental health and wellbeing, and this year also includes their views on returning to office working, has been run. 

The full results will be revealed and examined in a webinar on Thursday 9 September, led by Sophie Holland, Research Manager and Wellbeing Manager at Opinium. For further details and to book a place at the webinar, please visit the MRS website here.

Supporting the mental health of employees

The past year has seen research organisations significantly improve their mental wellbeing support. Almost half of the sector had access to a mental health first aider, an increase of a third in just a year, and 41% said that they are able to access an employee assistance programme, which is up on 2020.

Another way of encouraging positive wellbeing, the introduction of mental health or ‘duvet’ days – an unscheduled extra day’s leave from work, sanctioned by an employer – is supported by 45% of the sector, however few are currently offered this.

In the coming months, employers will also have to take views about returning to the office into account, with only 4% of those surveyed wanting to do so full time. Rather than being concerned about catching the virus, research professionals are more worried about having a busy, crowded commute (54%), as well as losing the free time gained from working at home (52%).

Positive signs, but improvements still to be made

Despite these encouraging outcomes, over four fifths of researchers have experienced poor mental health over the past year. This is a small rise from 2020, with only 18% of that number taking time off their job to rest.

According to the research, having too much to do remains the top cause of stress at work for the third year running and almost a quarter of the sector say they find their job stressful – showing that there is still work to be done.

This year’s webinar, Continuing the Conversation: Wellbeing in Research, will not only outline the full findings, but will also compare them to the two previous surveys in 2019 and 2020.  It will include advice on how to engage with mental wellbeing and there will also be a chance to put questions to a panel of experts.

Jane Frost CBE, CEO of MRS, comments: “It is a testament to the strength of the research sector that, in general, those involved in it support their employers’ actions. The past 18 months have seen an added weight placed on our sector as a whole, as businesses, government bodies and other organisations looked for insight and guidance through this period of uncertainty.

“To rise to this challenge while maintaining employees’ support is no mean feat, though there is still work to be done. Organisations and departments must not neglect the mental health of their professionals – the real assets of research – and I hope to see continued improvement in the availability of wellbeing support. 

“I thank everyone involved in putting together this survey; never has it been so important to shine a light on mental wellbeing.”

Sophie Holland, Research Manager and Wellbeing Lead at Opinium, comments: “It’s encouraging to see improvements in our sector in terms of openness around mental health and the introduction of initiatives to support employee wellbeing. But we cannot ignore that unmanageable workload and burnout remain fundamental issues in our sector which is on the rise versus previous years. It is vital that senior leaders act on these insights and address these issues so that we can see tangible improvements in employee wellbeing.”

Find the headline results for the 2021 survey here and sign up for the webinar to hear details of the full results.

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