This year’s survey, a joint project with the charity Jonathan’s Voice, was our first since the Covid-19 pandemic, our previous surveys having been conducted in 2018 and 2019. The survey was open to all members of CIPA and CITMA, as well as to business support professionals working in patent and trade mark organisations who are not necessarily members of either institute.
Levels of stress, anxiety and depression were significant, with more than half of all respondents saying they had been adversely affected by stress in the preceding twelve months. At least 45% of respondents to all three surveys had been affected by anxiety, and at least a fifth by depression. The most significant causes, again as in 2018 and 2019, were said to be related to high workloads. For the student respondents, exams were key contributors as well. Inclusivity-related problems are also still prevalent.
In terms of business impact, the survey revealed that stress and other mental health issues are leading to mistakes (or near-mistakes), reduced confidence, difficulty concentrating and reduced productivity, as well as physical problems such as fatigue and loss of sleep. In many cases they have caused respondents to consider leaving their current jobs and/or the profession.
At the end of this post there are links to download the full report, an executive summary and the raw survey data. Read on for a discussion of some of the key findings.
The survey was voluntary and anonymous. It aimed to capture data on mental health problems; their causes; their impact; the support available to help people cope with them; and the steps that might be taken to improve things. There were also questions exploring the impact of Covid.
We provided separate, tailored versions for students; paralegals and business support professionals; and (the “main survey”) other CIPA and CITMA members. The inclusion of all business support professionals in the second version, as opposed to only paralegal members of CIPA and CITMA, was new for 2022.
Response rates were lower than in previous years. There were 111 responses to the student survey; 183 responses to the paralegal and business support version; and 181 responses to the main version. The ratio of CIPA to CITMA respondents was approximately 4:1 in the main survey and 19:1 in the student survey. Respondents came from a range of professional roles, career levels and working environments, although in-house professionals were less well represented than private practice, the majority of respondents working in large private practice firms.
CURRENT MENTAL HEALTH: THE PREVIOUS 12 MONTHS
Higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression were recorded than in 2019, particularly among students where 72% of respondents said that high stress levels had affected their work in the past year.
Significant numbers of respondents felt unable to talk to their employer about their mental health problems or take time off work, many feeling that they should be able to cope. These figures are marginally better than in the previous surveys. However, they suggest that stigma still surrounds mental health issues in the IP professions.
High workloads appear to be contributing significantly towards mental health problems, in the form of deadlines, billing targets and client demands/expectations. Exam preparation and performance fears are also significant contributors for students. Insufficient control over workload and insufficient support were likewise prominent factors in all three surveys.
High workloads are also impeding alleviation of mental health issues, since having too much work and not wanting to let colleagues or clients down were significant reasons cited for not taking time off work. The majority of respondents were aware that you are allowed to take time off work for your mental health. However, many felt that they should be able to cope and had concerns around the impact on career prospects of taking time off for mental health.
In terms of negative feelings that have arisen at, or because of, work, high numbers of respondents in the student survey and the main survey had the feeling they were not up to the job and many feared making mistakes at work. Negative feelings linked to EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) such as feeling you don’t fit in, pressure to conform, anxiety or isolation linked to something personal, and needing to hide aspects of yourself, were relatively common (up to 31%), particularly amongst student respondents.
Work-related stress had a significant impact on respondents in terms of difficulties concentrating on work and reduced productivity. There was also an impact in terms of the numbers of respondents nearly or actually making a work-related mistake. Significant numbers (up to half of respondents) were considering leaving their current job or leaving the profession.
Physical symptoms experienced which could be attributed to work-related stress commonly included fatigue and sleeping and appetite problems. Some had considered self-harming. Roughly 1 in 8 of our student respondents, roughly 1 in 10 of the main survey respondents and roughly 1 in 17 of the paralegal and business support respondents, had had suicidal thoughts in the preceding 12 months.
AVAILABLE WORKPLACE SUPPORT
Whilst a significant proportion of respondents still appear unable to be fully open about their mental wellbeing among colleagues, many are able to turn to a sympathetic line manager or HR personnel.
Organisations have clearly invested in workplace support for mental health: the proportion of respondents with access to a trained mental health “first aider” has more than doubled since the 2019 survey, and access to private health care which extends to mental health problems and to EAPs (employee assistance programmes) has also increased significantly across all respondents. In addition, the majority of this year’s respondents have at least a moderate amount of flexibility in their working arrangements, levels of flexibility being significantly higher for all three groups than in 2019.
Over the preceding twelve months, many respondents have relied upon sympathetic family, friends or colleagues for mental wellbeing support. Nearly 30% of respondents in the main and student surveys have drawn upon the support of a counsellor or therapist.
Increasing numbers are accessing resources or support online, for example via Jonathan’s Voice, IP Inclusive or the CIPA Informals.
THE EFFECTS OF COVID-19
Significant numbers of respondents felt more concerned about their work-life balance than before the pandemic. This was particularly the case with respondents from the main survey, where nearly half indicated that they felt more concerned in this area, perhaps due to high workloads or perhaps suggesting difficulties in switching off from work when at home. This was also reflected in the responses regarding control over working hours, where over a third of respondents felt more concerned than before the pandemic.
The majority of student respondents felt more concerned about their training and exams since Covid.
Responses regarding parental/caring responsibilities were varied, but many with these responsibilities felt more concerned than before the pandemic.
In many aspects there was no change in how respondents felt post-Covid, eg in relation to job security, career progression, managing client demands and control over workload. Most respondents to the student and main surveys were less concerned about control over where they work since the pandemic, but this was not the case for all respondents to the paralegal and business support survey.
Here you can download:
- the executive summary
- the full report
- SurveyMonkey summaries of responses to the student, paralegal/business support and main survey versions
You may also be interested in this post by our Lead Executive Officer Andrea Brewster OBE, with her personal insights into the survey results and how the IP professions can respond.