Hays UK jobs and employment blog


Public Sector Blues (and how to beat them)

Matt Lewis, Director Hays Public Services


More than a quarter (26%) of all public sector workers have, at some point, suffered from a mental health condition, according to research conducted for the Hays Diversity & Inclusion Report 2019.

As we begin to talk more widely about mental health in the workplace and beyond, we have to consider how, in the public sector particularly, narrowing budgets and growing workloads are impacting employees state of mind, and directly affecting the vital services they provide. 

Wellbeing suffering more in the public sector

A survey by mental health charity Mind revealed that public sector workers were over a third more likely to say their mental health was poor compared to their peers in the private sector. The survey also revealed that of those who come forward with a mental health issue, less than half (49%) feel adequately supported by their employer, compared to 61% of private sector workers.

Mental health still a taboo

Part of the problem is cultural, and many public workers still feel that public sector institutions do not always create an atmosphere where mental health concerns are accepted and supported. Our research in the Hays Diversity & Inclusion Report 2019 shows that the taboo around mental health impacts an employee even from the job application stage, with 70% of public sector workers saying that any request for disclosure of mental health conditions would deter them from completing their application.

A threat to careers

Mental health is also a barrier to public sector worker’s career aspirations, 31% saying that their chances of being selected for a new role are significantly lower because of their mental health history – compared to only 22% of private sector professionals who say the same. Over a third (34%) of public sector workers also say that mental health can impact fair access to career progression opportunities.

How to break the cycle

Mental health is an issue which affects us all and should be approached no differently from physical ailments. The only way we’re going to accomplish this in the public sector is to normalise the open discussion of wellbeing, and work to create a working culture where mental health is understood and supported, with no impact to reputation or the chances of career progression. Consider these practical tips to help you tackle concerns around mental health at your workplace:

  • Train your managers in mental health ‘first aid’ so that they can recognise and support any mental health concerns in their teams
  • Identify stress points in your employees’ workloads, try to alleviate these wherever possible
  • Organise frank one-to-one meeting with your team members to encourage discussion of mental health concerns in a safe space

Through these and other techniques, you can help ensure your employees wellbeing is prioritised, and any mental health problems recognised early. The more supported employees feel, the more likely they are to share their problems, so you can help support their recovery, reduce rates of employee attrition and improve the overall culture of your organisation.  

If you would like to see more insights into mental health in the workplace, as well as the effect of other key diversity factors such as age, ethnicity and gender identity on talent attraction, selection and retention, request your copy of the Hays Diversity & Inclusion Report 2019.

About this author

Matt Lewis, Director Hays Public Services, has worked in specialist recruitment since 1994, the last 10 years of which have been spent working specifically with the public sector. Matt’s role has developed into leading MSP and RPO recruitment solutions to best position organisations to attract and retain high quality talent.


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