10 April 2015

Does your company stigmatise mental health?

Mental health issues cost British companies around 70 million working days each year, and many employees feel such issues are stigmatised in the workplace. How can these problems be overcome?

The mental health stigma

A recent report by the Chief Medical Officer revealed that mental illness cost British companies around 70 million working days (£100 billion) last year, making it the main cause of work absence.  

The Priory Group, one of the UK’s leading mental health specialists, recently asked its followers on Twitter whether they’ve ever called in sick due to a mental health condition but claimed it was a physical illness instead. 

The responses revealed that a large majority of people would rather lie than say they are suffering from a mental health illness such as depression, stress or anxiety.

This matches recent research that demonstrates employees’ unwillingness to disclose medical health conditions with employers. The Priory Group also found that 71% of employees wouldn't tell their employer if they had a mental health condition. This is more prevalent among women, with 75% saying they wouldn’t disclose a mental health condition compared to 66% of men.

Many employees worry about their employer’s response, lack of confidentiality or the risk of losing their job. But these reasons for non-disclosure all have the same root cause: the workplace can be a stigmatising place for mental health conditions.

Signs to look out for

Work can be stressful, and this stress can be a precursor to developing a mental health condition. There are a number of ways people can become stressed:

  • No control over work
  • Under-utilisation of skills
  • High workload with impossible deadlines
  • Low workload with no challenges
  • Low task variety
  • High uncertainty eg job insecurity
  • Low pay
  • Poor working conditions 
  • Undervalued social position

Tips on how to reduce stigma in the workplace

1. Review all policies and practices that affect your staff’s wellbeing
Do your policies and practices take into consideration mental health? Specialist HR website hrzone has identified the following policy areas which will need addressing if they don’t  currently mention mental health: 

  • Recruitment
  • Health and safety
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Working time
  • Sickness absence and return-to-work
  • Disciplinary action
  • Redundancy
  • Equality and diversity policy
  • Stress/wellbeing
  • Employee engagement
  • Personal development and performance management
2. Raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing
The best way to achieve a stigma-free workplace environment is to educate your employees. You can do this by providing mental health awareness resources, online training or carrying out a face-to-face session, teaching them what the common mental conditions are and how to recognise them in themselves and colleagues. 

3. Run a staff satisfaction survey
Managers should be regularly talking to employees to make sure they’re coping well with the demands of their job. Appraisals shouldn’t just be about performance review and creating new targets; they should also cover mental wellbeing and stress.

It can be hard for employees to bring up mental health issues out of the blue. You can create opportunities for your employees to address any sensitive issues by putting some time aside to talk about their mental wellbeing in the appraisal process.

4. Support staff and managers
Managers should be trained and made mindful about mental health. The most effective managers are able to support employees by managing their workloads and creating opportunities for learning. Managers should also be supported in the development of personal action plans for each employee, identifying the triggers that can affect stress and what support is available to them.

5. Increase awareness around your business commitment to creating a mentally healthy workplace
Let your employees know that you are committed to creating a stigma-free workplace. You can do this by sharing a mental health and wellbeing policy or sending an action plan and asking for people’s ideas. Try to highlight the benefits of creating a mentally healthy workplace and you’ll be able to get more of your employees on board.

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