Inclusive workplace encourages employees to disclose mental illness: Study

Employees support flexible work hours but not longer breaks for mentally ill colleagues
||Last Updated: 09/28/2009

Employees are more inclined to disclose mental illness and seek assistance when they believe their mentally ill co-workers are receiving equitable treatment from their employer, found a new study.

“Oftentimes, people are reluctant to disclose that they have a mental illness due to a perceived stigma,” said Travor Brown of Memorial University in Newfoundland and co-author of the study published in the Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“However, when a workplace is inclusive, employees feel more comfortable coming forward and are able to get necessary special accommodations from their employer and support from co-workers.”

The study surveyed 305 employees of a large unionized Canadian health-care organization. It found co-workers of the mentally ill were supportive of accommodations such as flexible work hours, time off for counseling and banking overtime hours. Co-workers were less supportive of offering the mentally ill longer or more frequent work breaks.

The study also found employees with significant workplace contact with the mentally ill were most likely to support hiring people with mental illness.

Mental illness poses considerable costs for employers in terms of workplace productivity, said Heather Peters, co-author of the study.

It is important for employers to develop and enact fair workplace policies and accommodation surrounding employee mental illness. This will help mentally ill workers achieve their full potential, encourage peer support, and lead others to seek assistance for their own mental illness,” said Peters.

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