Half of employees stay silent over mental health absence

More than half of employees who have taken time off work due to mental health issues feel uncomfortable speaking to their line manager about the real reason for their absence, research finds.

A survey of nearly 2,000 working adults across the country by Westfield Health discovers 21 per cent of workers admit the real reason for their absence would have a negative effect on their career.

The health and wellbeing company is calling for the ‘silence’ around the issue to be replaced with ‘open, honest conversations’ in the workplace after its research found 30 per cent feel they don’t have a close enough relationship with their line manager to talk openly about their mental health.

A fifth of respondents also say they find it easier to say something else is the cause of their absence.

Westfield Health’s executive director David Capper says that mental illness is a fact of life and can affect anyone at any time, but there is still a stigma surrounding it which results in this ‘unacceptable’ silence in the workplace.

‘Without open, honest conversations in organisations, many employers might think they provide a good support package for employee illness, but actually it’s failing to address one of the most common problems,’ he adds.

‘What’s more, a lack of transparency means the problem is much bigger than many employers realise.’

A lack of support for staff

The findings reveal more than a third of employees (34 per cent) feel line managers are more interested in getting an employee back to work as soon as possible instead of supporting them in managing their mental wellbeing, and 32 per cent feel they are treated differently by their line manager on their return to work following a period of absence for mental health reasons.

‘Simple steps can be taken to support colleagues whose mental health is under strain and to create a culture where employees feel safe to talk openly without facing any kind of discrimination.

Mental health should be treated the same way as physical health, but this can only begin by tackling the silence with honest conversations, Capper adds.

‘Our research shows that this is a much bigger problem than many employers realise and without staff opening up about the real reason for their absence, managers will never know the extent of the problem and will leave themselves in danger of not properly addressing the issue.’

Further reading on mental health

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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