Why a third of UK employees keep mental illness a secret at work

Letting an employee know they will be supported can improve the outcome for sufferers of mental illness in the workplace and can prevent long term employee absences

Recent research by AXA PPP healthcare found that over a third of employees living with a mental health condition (39%) are not open about their illness at work, with more than a quarter (29%) saying the reason is that they are too embarrassed to discuss it.
Other reasons included fear of being judged by colleagues (30%), being judged by their manager (24%) and not wanting to harm their career prospects (22%). The research also revealed that nearly half of employees (45%) say they would be more comfortable talking to their employer about their physical health, than about their mental health.
A 2016 survey from CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) suggested nearly a third (31%) of people have experienced mental health problems at work. The figure is higher for female employees (36%) and for those working in the voluntary sector (46%).
Absence management expert Adrian Lewis, Director at Activ Absence, which provides workplace absence management software, believes that employers should use better systems to proactively spot potential mental health issues, so they are can offer better support to their employees.
He said: “Unfortunately there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, which can make people uncomfortable about discussing it at work. People are often scared of what their boss or colleagues might think, and think that admitting to a mental health condition could mean them losing their job. This leaves many suffering in silence, often until they get to breaking point and have to take time off work.
“One solution to help employers address this is to have technology in place to track absence rates, and record people’s reasons for absence.
“Absence management software gives companies access to reports that detail who is off sick, when and why, so they can spot trends quickly and easily.
“Combine this with improved line manager training and this can help both HR and managers spot the early signs of mental health related issues, long before things escalate.
“Line manager training enables managers to take a proactive approach and have conversations with employees they suspect may be suffering from a hidden mental illness. Once they are aware, they can make reasonable adjustments and can communicate what assistance is available to support the employee.
“Letting an employee know they will be supported and not judged, can improve the outcome for sufferers of mental illness in the workplace. It can also prevent long term employee absences from work, something many companies are keen to tackle.”