A new survey and report from City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA), in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group has shone light on a link between racism and mental health that has hereto not been covered: workplace racism. The survey and extended report found the undeniable impact of workplace racism and attempts to make recommendations to businesses going forward.
Content note: as the CMHA report articulates we also wish to acknowledge the importance of language when discussing matters around race, identity, and experiences of racism. Currently we have adopted the terms, Black and Ethnic Minority peoples, Black and Brown peoples and this report uses the term ‘Black or from a Minority Ethnic background’.
We know these terms won’t feel right, applicable or respectful to everyone’s identity and lived experience. We strive to use specific ethnic describers when talking about certain groups of people to not over-generalise. At the moment the terms above are the most commonly accepted, but they won’t always be, and so we will take on the responsibility to stay up to date, edit and change where necessary.
The report and survey, titled 'Mental Health and Race at Work' were conducted this year between February and March by CMHA and Lloyds. The survey, carried out online via a YouGov panel of over 1000 employees were all Black or from a Minority Ethnic background and living in the UK. This group was then compared against a control group of 301 White British employees in similar job roles.
Participants in the survey held a range of job roles in a range of seniority, including: desk jobs, clerical, admin, security and IT. The range of Minority Ethnicities included some of the most predominant groups including: Black Caribbean, Black African or any other Black background, South Asian, such as Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani, East Asian such as Chinese, Japanese and South Korean.
Also included were Mixed backgrounds such as White and Back Caribbean, White and Black African, White and East Asian etc. The survey also made a point to engage with White non-British peoples including Irish, Roma people, Irish Travellers and Eastern European.
The CMHA state in the report that the aim of sharing this research is ‘to help improve the business community’s understanding of factors that are negatively impacting on the mental health of employees who are Black or from Minority Ethnic backgrounds.’
Within the development of the survey and report CMHA collected lived experiences from those with Black or Minority Ethnic backgrounds, some of which are included in the report.
The report also acknowledges the disproportionate number of people from Black or Ethnic Minority backgrounds who’s mental health has been negatively impacted over the past year due to the Black Lives Matter protests and Covid-19.
To end the summary the report states, ‘The research focuses on the impact that experiences at work and organisational culture can have on mental health, as well as external factors such as the global pandemic.’
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The key findings
From the sample group for the survey, 45% of Black people, 26% of East Asian people, 23% of South Asian and 24% of Mixed-Race peoples have experienced racism at work.
Of the group who reported racism at work, 65% of Black, 59% of East Asian and South Asian and 48% of Mixed-Race people acknowledged that this negatively impacted their mental health and wellbeing to a very large, large or moderate extent.
The findings presented from this survey point to the negative impacts on some employees’ mental health who feel pressured to change their behaviours. This pressure has lead them to ‘feeling isolated, excluded, anxious, uncomfortable and frustrated’.
The report quotes one participant who said, “I feel sad, restricted, stressed and at a disadvantage”.
The report also found that people who are Black or from a Minority Ethnic Background are more likely to have had traumatic or negative experiences during the past year related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
These experiences ranged from increased likelihood of bereavement due to the virus, or frontline worker related trauma (for South Asian employees especially) to increased likelihood of personal financial concerns (for Black employees especially).
On the flip side, the report also had some positive findings to speak of that shows the potential of workplace mental health support
It found that people who are Black or from Minority Ethnic backgrounds are more likely to experience cultural and relational stigma around discussing mental health than White people. The stigma seems to be most high for people who are South Asian or East Asian. This could be due to cultural pressures and pressures within families to perform in a certain way whether this be academically or within a career.
The survey found that workplaces are often safe spaces for those from Black or Minority Ethnic backgrounds to discuss mental health and seek advice, support, and help. Meaning it is even more important that tailor made support is given to people who are Black or from a Minority Ethnic background at work, to ensure that even if they are unable to access support in their personal lives, it is made available at work; this ensures the business/company/organisation is prioritising the wellbeing of these people.
As an aside to this, a large percentage of people reported that they would be even more comfortable accessing the support their workplaces provided if there was better representation seen in the people delivering this support as well as in how it is promoted.
For example, ensuring that wellbeing teams have spokespersons who are Black or from Minority Ethnic backgrounds will immediately give voice to those who might need their specific cultural or religious contextual needs known when developing a wellbeing/mental health approach. This also addresses the issue of those from Black or Minority Ethnic backgrounds not seeing anyone who “looks like me” within the delivery of the support.
The CMHA recommendations for action
- The CMHA asks businesses etc to ‘Recognise the specific challenges that employees from Black and Minority Ethnic groups are facing’. This means businesses need to take this information and actively use it to implement policy that safeguards Black and Minority Ethnic groups in the workplace.
- ‘Be actively anti-racist and prioritise inclusion’. This means dealing with any report of racist abuse, harassment or experiences of exclusion seriously and always believing and respecting the experiences of the person reporting it. It also means businesses should strive to diversify senior roles and management, this encourages an environment and culture of inclusion.
- ‘Promote and design inclusive workplace health and wellbeing systems’. This goes back to what was said previously about how businesses can make Black and Minority Ethnic groups feel more comfortable in coming forward to ask for support: the support must be relative to their cultural context, involve appropriate colleagues in the implementation and design of the system.
- ‘Allocate Board level responsibility’. This relates back to the first point, in order to be actively anti-racist those at the highest seniority must be prepared to hold people accountable and to drive the change forward that needs to happen to sustain the mental wellbeing of Black and Minority Ethnic employees.
- ‘Measure and be transparent about progress’. Employees will want to know how these new changes are progressing, including employees in the progress also increases accountability and makes the change sustainable.
This report and survey by the CMHA and Lloyds Banking Group makes it very clear: workplace awareness around the mental health of Black and Minority Ethnic people and perceivable support, policy and systems within businesses is crucial in the ongoing push to make our society safer for Black and Minority Ethnic people.
Speaking on the responsibility of businesses to enact this change, Poppy Jaman, CEO at CMHA said, "Businesses have a responsibility and an opportunity to build not only diverse but also inclusive and mentally healthy workplaces."
You can find toolkits and training around mental health and race to be used in the workplace by the CMHA, on their website page for this research here.