Understanding Mental Wellbeing in the Research Sector

Originally published on on the 18th July 2019, in collaboration with Opinium.


Understanding Mental Wellbeing in the Research Sector

Following Opinium’s insightful presentation at AURA’s 21st May 2019 Seminar, Sophie Holland, Research Executive at Opinium – sets out their findings following a major new research project to help understand mental wellbeing in the research sector. We also asked her to share her top tips for researching complex topics.

We’ve all heard statistics such as ‘1 in 4 people have mental health problems’, but the fact is that we all have mental wellbeing. With the workplace being somewhere many of us spend most of our time, it’s important that employers step up and help support their employees. This is what prompted us to develop our Workplace Mental Wellbeing audit, which enables employers to listen to their workforce, resulting in powerful insights to help accelerate change within their organisation.

As well as accelerating change in organisations, we were keen to help spur action in the market research sector, so, thanks to the MRS, we ran the audit amongst market research professionals, inhouse and agency, to understand mental wellbeing in our sector.

Researching difficult and complex research topics:

As with many difficult research topics, there were challenges with conducting research on such a complex and sensitive subject. Here’s how we overcame a couple of the challenges whilst developing our audit, which are applicable to researching any complex or difficult topic.

  • Provide a Definition/ Explanation
    Mental wellbeing itself may mean different things to different people, so we provided a definition to ensure all participants were on the same page when answering. It can be helpful to add context to questions that explore complex/ abstract concepts
  • Utilise Open End Questions
    With any complex topic, especially those where experiences vary so much, it can be difficult to fully capture all responses in closed questions. For this reason, we decided to include a multitude of open end questions in our mental wellbeing audit, to really bring the research to life and gain a fuller understand of employee’s experience of mental wellbeing in the workplace


Findings:  Client side researcher mental wellbeing

The findings from our audit of the market research sector highlighted some stark findings that need to be addressed, and hopefully prompt our sector to take action. Here are some of the initial findings from the research:

The vast majority (86%) of in-house market researchers have struggled with their mental wellbeing in the last 12 months, including, stress, burnout, feeling low/ down, anxiety, panic attacks and other mental health problems. Despite the high prevalence of struggling with mental wellbeing, less than a quarter (23%) of those who struggled with their mental health took any time off work.


So why are people continuing to work despite feeling mentally unwell?


Because sadly two fifths feel they have too much on at work to take any time off and two fifths don’t think it’s a valid reason to take time off. And unfortunately, two thirds of those who do take time off feel guilty for doing so.

However, the good news is that client-side market researchers do feel supported by their colleagues, with nearly 70% saying they feel their colleagues would be supportive if they were struggling with their mental wellbeing, higher than the wider work population (almost half).

Some of the main stresses, that might be contributing to poor mental wellbeing, for client-side researchers are:

  1. Workload (53%)
  2. Impending deadlines and targets (45%)
  3. Unclear expectations (45%)
  4. The risk involved in projects going wrong (49%)
  5. Not feeling good at their job (39%)

From our ongoing qualitative work and multiple large quantitative studies, we’re hearing back from employers that by listening to employees and understanding their stresses at work, they now have a better understanding of their workforce and as a result can introduce processes and initiatives that support employee mental wellbeing, making a sustainable difference. In addition to this, it is important for employers and senior leaders to openly talk about mental health in their organisation, and highlight it as an important issue on their agenda.


Find out the AURA Mental Wellbeing Score

To take part in the ‘AURA Workplace Mental Wellbeing audit’ please use the following link:

We will share the results with you over the coming months and let you know how AURA members are doing, compared to the market average.


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