Negative repercussions for employees disclosing mental health issues

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Many employees have faced negative consequences after admitting problems

A new study out today found that while 60% of its 3,000 respondents have experienced work-related mental health issues and 53% would feel comfortable discussing them at work, a shocking 15% face dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion for choosing to disclose a mental health issue to their employer.

The Mental Health at Work report, published by Business in the Community (BITC) ahead of World Mental Health Day, also reveals that while 84% of employers admit they have a responsibility towards staff mental health and 91% say their actions can directly affect employee wellbeing, only 24% have had any training on mental health.

BITC wellbeing director Louise Aston said that despite mental health being higher on the workplace agenda these days, the fact that so many reported facing negative repercussions remains the elephant in the room.

“This report is an urgent call to action for collective leadership from employers to end this injustice and provide better support,” she said. “It is time to challenge the myth that having a mental health issue 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.”

To mark the report’s release BITC is asking employers to ‘talk, train and take action’ by signing up to the Time to Change employers pledge, investing in mental health literature for employees and mental first aid training, and implementing guidance from the BITC/Public Health England Mental Health Employer Toolkit.

The Mental Health at Work study also found that 50% of line managers want training on mental health although 35% said there was no structure at work to support mental health and wellbeing issues. Furthermore there appears to be a disconnect between management and non-management’s opinions on how their business deals with mental health: 61% of CEOs and managing directors feel it’s well-supported compared to just 40% of lower-ranking staff.

Other findings reveal that women are more likely than men to report an issue at work (64% compared to 56% respectively). While younger people are more likely to have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, only a third of 18- to 29-year-olds are happy to discuss the issue with their manager compared to 50% of people in their 40s. Only 43% of black, Asian and minority ethnic employees would bring the issue up at work compared to 54% of white employees.

Wolfgang Seidl, head of health management consulting, EMEA for the study sponsor Mercer, said that while the report showed a positive trend with more employers taking responsibility for staff mental wellbeing and raising awareness, some had “an unsophisticated response” to disclosure from employees.

“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,” he said.

“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,” Seidl added.

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