Why Your Staff Are Hiding Their Mental Illness From You

Written by Jermaine Haughton Tuesday 25 April 2017
Often considered taboo in the workplace, most employees will not discuss a mental health problem with their manager
Person smashing a piece of paper

The culture of silence on mental health issues at work is deafening. Three-quarters of employees say they would not be likely to seek support from their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem, according to a poll from the mental health charity Mind.

The Workplace Wellbeing Index offers a startling insight into the challenges faced by mental illness at work from a widespread survey of 15,000 employees, including those working for large corporations such as Deloitte, Jaguar Land Rover and PepsiCo.

Unfortunately, many employees – from junior staff to chief executives – are unwilling to openly discuss their struggles with stress, anxiety, depression or any other mental ailment with their line manager or colleagues.

Read more: Want your staff to be more productive? Make them smile

Often the main concern is it will show them as weak or failing. In reality, mental illness is just as common and understandable an issue as physical problems, such as the flu or a sprained ankle – which people are much more forthcoming in disclosing to managers.

Typically, this negative approach can make any mental health problems even worse, as issues that could otherwise be resolved simply can soon develop into ill health, absence and disengagement.

One in four adults in the UK will experience a mental health condition in any given year, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimating the cost of mental health to the UK economy at £70bn per year, equating to 4.5% of GDP.

Therefore, it is for the benefit of both employees and employers to pay attention to the issue, and build preventative and supportive measures as an integral part of their organisation.

Management Disconnect

Mind is calling for employers to create an open culture where people feel able to discuss their wellbeing and tackle the causes of stress among their staff.

However, the charity has found there is a discrepancy between how well managers feel they support staff versus how well supported employees feel. Only half of employees surveyed by the charity feel their line manager supports their mental health, but 73% of line managers said they would feel confident supporting a member of staff experiencing a mental health problem.

This is underlined by the CMI’s Quality of Working Life study, which found that poor leadership from senior bosses is driving managers to working an extra 29 days every year – effectively cancelling out their annual leave.

Middle managers are working longer hours than ever before, leading to increased stress as a result of the ‘always on’ culture that is dominating UK offices. From nurses to city workers to salesmen, the CMI study found that many people are suffering dangerously high levels of stress outside of the office, as they fail to balance their home and work lives.

Mind said that its research suggests that overall, staff reported having good mental health at work. But where employees felt their mental health wasn't good, they felt their workplace was a contributory factor.

Overall, 12% said their mental health was poor, while a quarter of these people said this was due to problems at work.

Of the staff who had disclosed poor mental health at work, half said they felt supported and 72% said they had been made aware of the support tools such as Employee Assistance Programmes, counselling, staff support networks or informal buddying systems.

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, said: "In the last few years, we've seen employers make great strides when it comes to tackling stress and supporting the mental wellbeing of their staff, including those with a diagnosed mental health problem.

"Our research shows that mental health problems are very common among employees who work for organisations of various sizes and sectors.”

Managers can take a number of positive, practical steps to help manage mental health at work, from monitoring workloads, to increasing team collaborations, to having a more suitable physical environment for their staff and regular informal talks on a one-on-one basis.

No matter the size of the employer, fostering a healthy workplace culture can increase productivity, profitability and staff commitment.