A new major study from University College Cork has found that 80% of employers in Ireland are not investing in workplace mental health.

Researchers say the survey provides the first national picture of the impact of the pandemic on mental health in Irish workplaces.

The study shows that one in five Irish firms have experienced mental health related issues in the past year and that mental health-related absenteeism is on the rise.

The report, entitled Healthy Workplace Ireland: A survey of Mental Health & Well-being Promotion in Irish Firms, found that more than half of employers reported that the proportion of absenteeism due to mental ill-health has increased in the last 12 months.

The research is part of a broader international study and compares the prevalence of mental ill health in Irish and English workplaces, as well as differences in how employers are responding to these challenges.

The study found that firms in Ireland are less likely to support workplace health promotion than in England.

Presenteeism, working when ill, is also higher in Irish businesses compared to employers in England.

The research shows that smaller firms are much less likely to be providing support for employee mental health and well-being.

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"Mental health-related sickness absence is a growing challenge for Irish employers," said University College Cork researcher Dr Jane Bourke.

"The business costs of poor employee mental health and well-being can be substantial."

"However, employers are more likely to implement mental health and well-being initiatives that do not involve a financial outlay. In fact, only one in five firms have a dedicated budget for mental health," Dr Bourke said.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Dr Bourke said that employers are aware of their responsibility for employees mental health but that many do not have a dedicated budget for mental health and well being.

Dr Jane Bourke said that employers are more likely to implement mental health and well being initiatives that do not involve a financial outlay.

'So for instance, one in three employers have a mental health and well being lead - at senior level or at board level. One in 10 have employee mental health champions. Just over one in five have a mental health plan. But when it comes to the budget, we see that employers are not prioritising investing in mental health," she stated.

Dr Bourke said international evidence shows that when employers invest in mental health and well being, there is increased staff morale and motivation as well as reduced absenteeism.

Researchers say that mental health issues are estimated to cost the Irish economy approximately €11 billion each year.

"The report is a first step to understanding workplace mental health and wellness promotion by Irish employers," said Niamh Lenihan, Munster Technological University.

"Why are Irish employers, the majority of whom acknowledge their responsibilities, not investing in workplace mental health and well-being to a greater extent? It may be that the business case for investing in mental health and well-being is unclear to Irish businesses," Ms Lenihan said.

1,501 Irish employers took part in the survey between September and December 2022.