Around two-thirds of UK employees are hiding important aspects of their lives at work, new data has revealed.
The research, published to coincide with National Inclusion Week (25 September – 1 October), was carried out by membership organisation Inclusive Employers, which encourages businesses to build inclusive workplaces. Their annual event aims to raise awareness of the importance of workplace inclusion whilst promoting the benefits to businesses.
But their research showed that around 61 per cent of staff still felt unable to disclose family, mental health or other personal issues to their employer.
Family difficulties (46 per cent) mental health (31 per cent) and sexual orientation (20 per cent) were among the most common issues most likely to be withheld, according to the research. It also revealed a clear generational divide: nearly 70 per cent of employees aged between 18 and 24 were withholding important aspects of their personal lives whilst 55 per cent of those aged over 55 were doing the same.
Charles Alberts, workplace wellbeing expert at Aon Employee Benefits said: “Whilst there is a contingent who may argue that ‘work is a place for work’ and personal matters should be kept at home, there is now far greater acceptance that encouraging staff to bring their whole selves to work is a huge benefit to overall wellbeing.
“Us humans are social beings, and fostering good, positive relationships with colleagues is a key ingredient to us feeling a greater affinity with the workplace. However, these stats do show that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to create the right working environments.”
Indeed, despite mental health awareness campaigns being carried out across the UK over the past few years, the Inclusive Employers research suggested there was still no consistent culture of openness.
Writing in May in The Guardian, Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, the anti-stigma movement co-run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, urged employers to sign the Time to Change pledge, which allows employers to demonstrate their commitment to ending the stigma of mental health by encouraging employees to talk openly about mental health and other personal issues.
The Inclusive Employers research warned that a lack of openness could contribute to staff disengagement and lower productivity levels, with over 25 per cent of employees admitting they’d feel “less connected” if they were unable to be honest about their personal lives and 18 per cent saying their performance would suffer as a result.
Alberts added: “The ability to be open at work has benefits beyond engagement, particularly in respect of concealable medical conditions such as mental health. Far too many people are unable to be honest about mental health issues, fearing stigma and discrimination. An employer is therefore not able to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace if they are not aware that someone might be suffering.
“Furthermore, not accessing this type of support can worsen the individual’s condition, potentially leading to longer absences from work. The positive news is that this can be addressed through robust employer policies and bringing about culture change that starts at the top to create better working environments.”