Bosses reluctant to discuss mental illness in the workplace, says survey » SMEInsider

Bosses reluctant to discuss mental illness in the workplace, says survey

Managers admit to struggling when it comes to discussing mental health with their employees, according to research by AXA PPP healthcare.

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of those polled said they are more comfortable talking about employees’ physical health than their mental health.

When asked why that is, almost half (45 per cent) said they didn’t know enough about mental health, while 43 per cent were concerned they might upset or offend someone and 34 per cent said they didn’t want to say the wrong thing and get into trouble.


Closed dialogue

For 19 per cent of managers, not knowing how to start a conversation with an employee about their mental health was a problem.

While more than half of respondents (57 per cent) reported feeling equally at ease discussing mental health as they did talking about physical health, there clearly still exists a culture of silence when it comes to mental illness.

This is despite the fact that more than a quarter (28 per cent) of managers have themselves been diagnosed or treated for a mental health problem, such as stress, anxiety or depression.


‘Taboo’ must be tackled

Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services for AXA PPP healthcare, said: “Employers have a duty of care towards their employees’ health and safety, and would therefore be wise to provide managers with suitable training and back-up to ensure they are able to support employees whether their health problem relates to physical health or to mental health.

“There is still a taboo around mental ill health and some [managers] would seem to be more concerned about getting into trouble or upsetting the employee than they are about the employee’s mental wellbeing.

“This should simply not be the case – managers should be ready, willing and able to hold a sensitive, supportive conversation with any employee they think is showing signs of ill health.”


Unfavourable treatment

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, of the managers surveyed who had experienced a mental health problem, fear of being judged, subject to discrimination or set back in their career meant that just 19 per cent told their own manager about it.

Some 34 per cent felt they were treated less favourably by their boss, and 38 per cent by their colleagues, than someone who had a physical illness.

Dr Winwood added: “This fear of discrimination demonstrates that there is lack of awareness and understanding of the impact of mental ill health – not only by managers but also by other employees.

“It is clear from this research that mental ill health is not considered on a par with physical health, leading to fear of isolation, which perpetuates the stigma and prevents employees from seeking help and treatment.

“Managers need to be able to take a proactive approach to mental health and direct employees appropriately, as identifying an issue yet not providing a solution can be counterproductive.”