Why a third of UK employees keep mental illness a secret at work

Many UK employees are not open about mental health conditions at work due to fear of judgement or an impact on their career.

Recent research by AXA PPP healthcare finds that more than a third of employees living with a mental health condition (39 per cent) are not open about their mental illness at work, with more than a quarter (29 per cent) saying the reason is that they are too embarrassed to discuss it.

Other reasons include fear of being judged by colleagues (30 per cent), being judged by their manager (24 per cent) and not wanting to harm their career prospects (22 per cent). The research also reveals that 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.

A 2016 survey from CIPD suggests nearly a third (31 per cent) of people have experienced mental health problems at work. The figure is higher for female employees (36 per cent) and for those working in the voluntary sector (46 per cent).

Absence management expert Adrian Lewis, director at Activ Absence believes that employers should use better systems to proactively spot potential mental health issues, so they are can offer better support to their employees.

Adrian comments, ‘Unfortunately there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, which can make people uncomfortable about discussing it at work. People are often scared of what their boss or colleagues might think, and think that admitting to a mental health condition could mean them losing their job. This leaves many suffering in silence, often until they get to breaking point and have to take time off work.

‘One solution to help employers address this is to have technology in place to track absence rates, and record people’s reasons for absence. Absence management software gives companies access to reports that detail who is off sick, when and why, so they can spot trends quickly and easily. Combine this with improved line manager training and this can help both HR and managers spot the early signs of mental health related issues, long before things escalate.

‘Line manager training enables managers to take a proactive approach and have conversations with employees they suspect may be suffering from a hidden mental illness. Once they are aware, they can make reasonable adjustments and can communicate what assistance is available to support the employee.

‘Letting an employee know they will be supported and not judged, can improve the outcome for sufferers of mental illness in the workplace. It can also prevent long term employee absences from work, something many companies are keen to tackle,’ concludes Mr Lewis.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community (BITC), believes that implanting the importance of mental health into a work culture can be a lengthy process. She says, ‘The key here is about really strong leadership, making a commitment to putting mental and physical health on a parity, and providing relevant training to all employees.’

Further reading on mental illness

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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