• Less than 10 per cent of employees feel comfortable disclosing mental health problems

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  • 20 Feb 2017
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But most employers think staff are happy to discuss issues, says survey

Fewer than 1 in 10 employees feel comfortable talking to their managers about mental health problems – though the overwhelming majority of employers think there is no such barrier.

According to the findings of a new survey by Legal & General, 78 per cent of employers believe their staff are comfortable having mental health discussions at work.

The financial services company surveyed around 2,000 full-time employees and 200 managing directors or HR managers, from a range of different-sized companies. It found that only 4 per cent of those who had experienced depression, and 5 per cent of those who had experienced anxiety, felt they could speak to line managers or supervisors about it.

These figures fall far short of the 40 per cent of employees who reported having experienced depression. A further 22 per cent said they were dealing with anger issues and 25 per cent felt they were being put under unacceptably high levels of pressure at work.

Previous research has highlighted a similarly troubling gap. In November, a survey by the CIPD and Halogen found that 47 per cent of staff were uncomfortable disclosing mental health issues to their employer or manager.

Dr Jill Miller, policy adviser at the CIPD, said that although there had been significant progress in recognising the importance of supporting employee mental health, “this stark disconnect of views illustrates that there is still work to be done”.

“A crucial missing link is often found in the relationship between line managers and their employees. Just 22 per cent of employers are investing in developing line manager competence and capability to manage and support staff with mental health problems,” she said.

“People need to feel at ease raising issues at work, and trust that they will be supported. Training for line managers needs to cover how to have these kinds of sensitive discussions with members of their team and where to signpost them to help if needed.”

Emma Mamo, head of workplace Wellbeing at Mind, said the charity was concerned, but not surprised, by the report, which echoed its own research. “Unfortunately there’s still a taboo around talking about mental health at work, and a disparity between how well employees and employers think their organisation is doing when it comes to creating mentally healthy workplaces,” said Mamo, adding that there were lots of inexpensive initiatives that organisations could put in place to create a more open culture.

“Too often, we still hear from people being treated differently or even pushed out of their jobs once they’ve disclosed to their boss that they have a mental health problem,” she said. “But people with mental health problems can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace.”

Martin Noone, managing director of Legal & General Workplace Health and Protection, said its research demonstrated that there was much more work to do to change the perception of mental health and the stigma attached to it. “It seems that the workplace has, in the main, become a place for ‘suffering in silence’,” he added.

Last month prime minister Theresa May announced plans to increase the support and resources available to employees suffering from mental health problems in the workplace, to try and tackle the “hidden injustice” of these issues.

Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, are to lead a review into how best to ensure employees with mental health issues are supported at work and employers are more involved in their care.

The cost of mental health to employers is approximately £30bn per year; however, anxiety and depression are not the only aspects that employers need to be aware of. New research commissioned by the Co-op found that the UK’s loneliness epidemic is costing employers £2.5bn a year – the equivalent of £82 per employee.

The findings, compiled by the New Economics Foundation, suggest that people who are lonely are five times more likely than others to leave their job within a year, which costs business around £1.62bn in terms of staff turnover alone.

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  • It is not true that 78% of 'employers' (here meaning HR staff and 'managing directors') really believe that their staff are 'comfortable' having mental health conversations at work - they're just saying that. One can't assume that the responses in this type of survey are honest - people will often say what they think they're supposed to say.

    Most mental health issues at work are caused by bad management and are often caused deliberately as a way of controlling people. HR generally facilitate bad management by taking the side of management or covering up bullying or bad management in the workplace.

    Organisations like Mind are aware of the reasons for mental health problems in the workplace, and need to stop acting merely as passive commentators on the issue, but should start providing concrete support to people who do speak up about mental health problems caused by bad management and HR. This needs to include support in terms of resources for victims who have to go to Court as a result of their employer's actions. Until this happens the problem will not be addressed. Mind, you know the reasons for workplace stress - please help to do something about it!

  • This research is interesting, but like any relationship it is a two way process.  

    We need to empower our employees to find their voice, the first step in recovery from any mental issue is being able to talk.  What is of real interest is why do we all find talking about mental issues so difficult.  It is too easy and simplistic an argument to blame to organisation.  The way forward is to find a way for working together with both managers and staff and develop in a more compassionate organisational culture.  There is no quick fix but the need for an on going committment on both side to work together.  Relationships break down through what is not said.....so let start talking more.