Many workers afraid to disclose mental health problems

Few U.K. organizations encourage staff to talk openly: CIPD survey

The issue of mental ill health is still being swept under the carpet in most workplaces in the United Kingdom, with just four in 10 employees saying they would feel confident to disclose a mental health problem to their employer, according to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD.

Despite 26 per cent of employees having experienced a mental health problem while in employment, too few employers are taking positive steps to manage this increasingly business critical issue, found the survey of 2,068 employees. Just 25 per cent of respondents said their organization encourages staff to talk openly about mental health problems and only 37 per cent said their employer supports employees with mental health problems well.

"Managing mental health at work is central to good business performance. Stress is the number one cause of long-term sickness absence but it is not just time lost to absence which impacts on the bottom line,” said Ben Willmott, CIPD head of public policy. “The majority of people with poor mental health continue to attend work and report that it can impact on their ability to concentrate, make good decisions and provide effective customer service. It is estimated that this presenteeism costs U.K. businesses £15.1 billion (C$24.3 billion) per year in reduced productivity, while mental health related sickness absence costs £8.4 billion (C$13.5 billion).”

Nearly two-thirds of employees with poor mental health said this is the result of a combination of problems at work and outside work in their personal life, found the survey. Just 15 per cent of respondents with poor mental health said this is due to work alone and 20 per cent said their problems are solely down to problems outside work in their personal lives.

Managing and supporting mental health at work is integral to good people management, he said.

“To a large degree, this is about how managers interact with staff on a day-to-day basis and the extent to which they build working relationships based on mutual trust and confidence, for example, by managing workloads effectively and providing appropriate feedback, coaching and support where necessary.”

Managers need to be equipped with the knowledge and confidence to pick up on the early warning signs and intervene where employees are struggling, said Willmott.

“Mental ill health is usually caused by a complex interaction between pressures at work and at home, so increasing worries about debt, home repossession and job insecurity, as the economy continues to remain depressed, may well lead to a surge in mental ill health."

Other findings:
•Women are significantly more likely to report experiencing a mental health problem while in employment (31 per cent) than men (22 per cent).
•25 per cent of respondents said their current mental health is moderate (21 per cent) or poor (four per cent) compared to 41 per cent that described their mental health as good and 33 per cent that said it is very good.
•Just more than one-third of respondents said their employer supports employees with mental health problems well. In contrast 21 per cent of workers said their employer does not support mental health at work well, while 31 per cent do not know what support is available, suggesting poor communication is part of the problem.
•People working in the voluntary sector (39 per cent) and public sector (37 per cent) are significantly more likely than those in the private sector (23 per cent) to say they have experienced a mental health problem while in employment.

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