March 15, 2016
Over a quarter (28 per cent) of managers admit to having been diagnosed with or treated for a mental health related condition such as stress, anxiety or depression, however, 26 per cent of them keep this private at work, citing fear of being judged by colleagues or their manager (42 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively). And it’s not surprising this reticence persists when you consider that over one in four UK managers (27 per cent) would be more comfortable discussing employees’ physical health than they are discussing their mental health. According to the new research from AXA PPP healthcare, fear it would harm their career prospects (25 per cent) and fear of being discriminated against (21 per cent) are the main reasons for keeping quiet. Although 57 per cent say they’re just as comfortable discussing one or the other the sizeable minority who don’t indicates there’s still work to be done to overcome the mental health taboo.
It’s perhaps not surprising that managers don’t want to speak out when a third (34 per cent) of those who have been diagnosed or treated for a mental health condition say they feel they’re treated worse by their own boss than someone who has a visible or physical illness. Similarly, 38 per cent say they feel they’re treated worse by colleagues than someone who has a visible or physical illness.
When asked why they felt more comfortable discussing an employee’s physical health, managers cited not knowing enough about mental health compared with physical health (45 per cent), not wanting to upset or offend anyone (43 per cent) and not wanting to say the wrong thing and get in to trouble 34 per cent. Nineteen per cent admitted they wouldn’t know how to start a conversation with an employee about their mental health.
Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare, commented: “Employers have a duty of care towards their employees’ health and safety, and would therefore be wise to provide managers with suitable training and back-up to ensure they are able to support employees whether their health problem relates to physical health or to mental health.
“There is still a taboo around mental ill health and, as seen by the responses of the managers we polled, some would seem to be more concerned about getting into trouble or upsetting the employee than they are about the employee’s mental wellbeing. This should simply not be the case – managers should be ready, willing and able to hold a sensitive, supportive conversation with any employee they think is showing signs of ill health.”
Dr Winwood continued: “This fear of discrimination demonstrates that there is lack of awareness and understanding of the impact of mental ill health – not only by managers but also by other employees. It is clear from this research that mental ill health is not considered on a par with physical health, leading to fear of isolation, which perpetuates the stigma and prevents employees from seeking help and treatment.
“Managers need to be able to take a proactive approach to mental health and direct employees appropriately, as identifying an issue yet not providing a solution can be counterproductive.”