United Kingdom

Staff still reluctant to discuss mental health concerns with their boss

May 2017


The majority of employees are reluctant to discuss mental health problems with their line manager, research from mental health charity Mind has found.

The charity's poll which surveyed 15,000 employees across the UK for Mind's Workplace Wellbeing Index report, revealed that 75 per cent said they were "unlikely" to seek support from their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem.

Only half said their managers supported their mental health but nearly three quarters of managers did not agree, saying they felt "confident" in supporting team members who were experiencing difficulties.

But the poll is at odds with a 2016 study by The Mental Health Foundation - the charity behind Mental Health Awareness Week - which found that just 10 per cent of line managers felt they had received enough training to support employees' mental health at work.

Staff reluctance to discuss mental health issues with their employer is not new. Last week, Aon reported that half of working adults said they would not talk to their boss if they were struggling with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, according to a BBC Radio 5 survey.

Charles Alberts, senior consultant and mental health specialist at Aon Employee Benefits said: "Creating an environment where employees are able to discuss mental health concerns in the workplace is a positive objective for all to strive towards.

"From the employee's perspective, there are numerous advantages of talking about their mental health, not least to ensure that they receive the most appropriate support from their employer. For instance, this may involve being signposted to employee benefits and services and also discussion about what adjustments to the workplace may be required to help them remain productive and engaged at work. The benefits to businesses are clear."

Aon's newly-published whitepaper, Wellbeing: The correlation between employee health and financial wellbeing which looks at the impact of mental health in the workplace and asks if employers are doing enough to support staff, cited a 2016 CIPD repeat study which found that 44 per cent of respondents would not feel confident discussing unmanageable stress or mental health problems with their boss.

The CIPD study suggested a rise in the prevalence of mental health problems in the workplace. It revealed that of the 2,000 employees polled, 31 per cent said they had experienced a mental health problem at some point during their career, compared to 26 per cent in 2011.

In particular, the research revealed an increase in employers taking steps to support staff with 46 per cent of respondents reporting that their employer supports mental health issues "fairly well", compared to 37 per cent in 2011.

Just over 30 per cent said they had access to phased return-to-work plans and flexible working arrangements.

In addition, 27 per cent said they had access to occupational health and an additional 27 per cent said they had access to counselling services. But just 10 per cent were aware that mental health training was available for line managers whilst less than 5 per cent said they had access to a mental health first aider or a mental health champion.

Recognising the impact of mental health in the workplace, in January, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged a package of reforms to end the "stigma" of mental health not just in schools and hospitals but in the workplace and communities, too.

Alberts added: "It's crucial for HR to better understand why employees feel unable to talk to their manager about mental health so that employers know what to do to create an open and supportive environment. Research indicates that the reasons are complex, but most commonly point towards stigma and a fear of the impact disclosure may have on the employee's career.

"We'd urge businesses to implement a formal policy relating to managing mental health in the workplace, increase mental health literacy by educating all about mental health conditions which can help tackle the stigma and provide specialist training for line managers."



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