Many of us have experienced a mental health problem. Right now, one in six workers in Wales is experiencing stress, anxiety or depression. Stress is not a mental health problem but prolonged exposure to unmanageable stress can cause, or worsen existing, mental health problems. Mental health problems are common and yet most employees don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health at work, often fearing being deemed incompetent or less capable than other colleagues.
Mind commissioned YouGov to poll 1250 workers in England and Wales. We found that of the 14% of those we polled who had a diagnosed mental health problem, fewer than half (45%) had told their current employer. Similarly, staff still don’t feel comfortable telling their employer if stress has caused them to need time off work. Of those who said they’d taken time off sick with stress, just five % said the reason they gave their employer was that they were too stressed to work. The remaining 95% cited another reason for their absence, such as an upset stomach (44%) or a headache (7%).
There is also a perception held by staff that their employers don’t believe that a mental health problem is a valid reason for taking time off. A recent survey by AXA PPP Healthcare found that 69% of managers did not believe mental health problems warranted time off work. While most of us experience stress in our jobs, prolonged exposure to stress can affect your ability to concentrate and make decisions and cause physical and mental health problems including headaches and high blood pressure.
The vast majority of employees experiencing unmanageable stress or a mental health problem can still carry out their role to a high standard, but may need extra support. Employers can only offer additional support if they are aware of any issues staff are facing. As such, organisations need to create an environment which promotes good mental health so staff will feel comfortable talking about any issues. Employees who work within a culture which neglects staff wellbeing will be wary of opening up if they are experiencing issues, potentially leading to bigger problems further down the line, including ‘presenteeism’ – staff coming to work when unwell and not performing at their best.
Under the Equality Act 2010, an employer has a duty to make adjustments for an employee with a disability (including a mental health problem). Adjustments are typically inexpensive and might include offering flexible hours or changes to start or finish time, changes to role, increased support from managers in prioritising and managing workload, and quiet rooms. Supporting staff is more than a legal obligation, it’s part of being a responsible employer.
Thankfully we are beginning to see employers take mental health more seriously and put in place initiatives to support their staff. Attitudes are also starting to change, partly helped by anti-stigma campaigns such as Time to Change Wales. Not only is looking after staff the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense, resulting in increased productivity, morale and retention.
If you’re an employee worried about your own or a colleague's mental health or a HR professional interested in improving mental wellbeing in your organisation, Mind can help. Visit our website and you'll find webinars and a range of free resources which you can read online or download.
HR managers and senior business leaders can nip problems in the bud before they worsen by promoting an open and supportive environment. We want to see all employers create a culture where staff are able to speak about mental health and are reassured that if they do disclose a problem, it will lead to support, not discrimination.
For information to help you improve mental wellbeing in your organisation, visit www.mind.org.uk/for-business
Blog by Claire Foster, who leads on workplace training in Wales for Mind, the mental health charity