Research has revealed that a sizeable proportion of employees who reveal that they have been diagnosed with or treated for a mental health related condition feel they are treated differently by their manager (27 per cent) or by colleagues (22 per cent) compared with those who have a physical or visible illness.
It is therefore not surprising that the study by AXA PPP healthcare found that over a third of employees living with a mental health condition (39%) are not open about it in the workplace. Reasons they gave included embarrassment (29%), fear of judgement from colleagues (30%), being judged by their manager (24%) and not wanting to harm their career prospects (22%).
However, nearly half of employees (45 per cent) say they would be more comfortable talking to their employer about their physical health than about their mental health.
Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare, comments:
“Employers have a responsibility to create a work environment where employees feel able to be open and honest with their manager. Equally, managers need to feel confident to have a conversation with their employees about how they are and whether they need any support. This confidence can be helped through training and support from their employer.
“A manager asking simply ‘How are you feeling today?’ shows they care. It is also essential that managers can reassure employees that it’s okay not to feel okay and they should feel able to let the employee know about support available to them in the workplace and how to access it. For example, the manager could suggest the employee seeks professional help or uses support such as an employee assistance programme that their employer may offer.”
Absence management expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence believes that employers should use better systems to proactively spot potential mental health issues and better support employees.
“The unnecessary stigma attached to mental illnesses like stress and depression can prevent employees talking about them. Fear of what their boss or colleagues might think, along with the fear of losing their job if people find out can mean that employees suffer in silence for a long time until they get to breaking point – after which they often require a period of absence from work.
“Having technology in place to track absence rates and record reasons for absence, combined with improved line manager training can help HR spot early signs of mental health related issues BEFORE things escalate. Line manager training enables them to have pro-active conversations with employees who they suspect may be suffering from a hidden mental illness. Once they are aware, they can make reasonable adjustments and can communicate benefits accordingly.
Letting an employee know they will be supported, not judged, can improve the outcome for sufferers of mental illness in the workplace – and can also prevent long term employee absences from work.”
For more information visit the AXA PPP healthcare Mental Health Centre.