Rising numbers of employees face demotion, disciplinary action or dismissal for disclosing mental health issues

Most UK employees have experienced mental health issues because of work yet over a million people face negative consequences after disclosing, according to a new report, Mental Health at Work published by the charity Business in the Community in advance of World Mental Health Day.  YouGov surveyed over 3,000 people in work across the UK for the study and found that three in five (60 percent) employees have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work. Yet despite 53 percent of people feeling comfortable talking about mental health at work, a significant percentage of employees risk serious repercussions for disclosing a mental health issue. 15 percent of employees face dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion after disclosing a mental health issue at work (almost twice the number identified in similar research undertaken in 2016). Scaled up to the general working population, this could mean as many as 1.2 million people negatively affected for disclosing mental health problems.

The report highlights some significant improvement in attitudes towards mental health in the workplace. 84% of employers acknowledge that they have a responsibility towards their employee’s mental wellbeing. And 91% of managers agree that what they do affects the wellbeing of their staff. However, despite this, less than a quarter (24%) of managers have received any training in mental health. There also remains a pervasive culture of silence over mental health at work with three out of four people affected choosing not to involve anyone at work.

Commenting on the findings, Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director, Business in the Community said:  “Despite the increased prominence of mental health as a workplace issue, it remains the elephant in the room that over a million people face serious repercussions for disclosing mental health issues to their employers. This report is an urgent call to action for collective leadership from employers to end this injustice and provide better support. It is time to challenge the myth that having mental health issues equates to poor performance. We must equip managers with the knowledge and training to make the reasonable workplace adjustments that enable people to stay in work and thrive.”

The report also finds that:

  • Half of line managers would welcome training on mental health conditions and 35% report not having any workplace facilities or services to support employee mental health and wellbeing.
  • Just 11% of people felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager.
  • Young people are more likely to have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition (39% vs 28% of employees in their 50s) – but less likely to disclose these concerns to their bosses then older workers. Only a third of 18-29-year olds are comfortable talking with their managers about mental health compared to almost half of people in their 40s.
  • Women are more likely to report experiencing mental health issues (64% reporting issues compared to 56% of men).
  • Mental health is one of the most difficult subjects to talk about at work. Out of the nine equality and social issues asked about in the survey, people find it more comfortable talking about 7 other issues including race, age, physical health and religious beliefs.
  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic employees are less likely to feel comfortable talking about mental health at work (43% compared to 54% of white employees).
  • There is a disconnect between how senior leaders and employees view this issue. 61% of owners, CEO’s and Managing Directors believe their employee’s mental health is well supported compared to 40% of non-managers.

“The study shows a positive trend with an increasing number of employers taking responsibility for staff mental wellbeing and employing an increasingly diverse set of tools to raise awareness of mental health issues,” said Dr Wolfgang Seidl, UK and European Workplace Health Consulting Leader for Mercer – sponsor of the study. “However, a minority of employers seem to follow an unsophisticated response to employees’ disclosure of mental health issues by administering disciplinary action, dismissal or demotion. Destigmatisation of mental health is sorely needed and can be achieved by moving from a piecemeal approach of isolated tactical interventions to a truly strategic approach. Having in place a coherent mental health pathway with appropriate referral opportunities at the right time is essential.”

Dr Seidl added: “Once a logical professional pathway for referrals is in place, line managers are less worried about getting their response right and mental health loses some of its stigma because it is treated like any health issue.”Business in the Community has today published actions** and recommendations to help businesses address the stigma around mental health and take practical action to remove it. This includes more training for line managers, so they understand how to make appropriate reasonable adjustments to support an employee with mental health issues in the same way that they would for an employee with physical needs.

The Mental Health at Work report is drawn from the findings of the National Employee Mental Wellbeing Survey sponsored by Mercer and undertaken by YouGov. It is a three-year collaborative project supported by strategic partners The Institute of Leadership and Management, Mental Health at Work, Mental Health First Aid England, Mind and The Work Foundation, to transform workplace mental health.

Image: AnnDeeF

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