Mental Health at Work and the elephant in the room

Louise Aston, Business in the Community Wellbeing Director shares her shock and anger at the statistics within the Mental Health at Work Report published today.  2017 has seen an unacceptable rise in the number of employees facing negative consequences from disclosing mental health issues including disciplinary action, demotion and dismissal, a rise of over 60% on 2016.  Louise calls for better performance management systems and training for management. 
 

Today, Business in the Community has published a new Mental Health at Work report, examining the findings from a YouGov survey of over 3,000 people. This follows our first Mental Health at Work survey which was published in 2016. Although the report shows there have been some incremental improvements, there are still some findings from the 2017 survey which are highly disturbing.

One of the findings which I found deeply shocking is that 15% of employees face dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion after disclosing a mental health issue at work (almost twice the number identified in the 2016 survey).

Scaled up to the general working population, this could mean as many as 1.2 million people negatively affected for speaking out about their mental health – a truly appalling figure.

The elephant in the room is performance management - the assumption that it’s often easier to ‘sweep it under the carpet’ rather than taking steps to support employees with appropriate reasonable adjustments. This is down to a lack consensus and guidance of what ‘good’ looks like for managing certain mental health conditions as well as a lack of training for managers and inappropriate performance management systems. Making reasonable adjustments for employees with mental health issues should be treated on a parity with physical health. Employers should be able to support employees to stay in work, when appropriate, and make adjustments including support with workload, revised working hours, allowing absence for treatment or opportunities to work from home, depending on the individual’s needs.

I am also angry about the way younger employees are being left behind; they consistently tell us that they are afraid to speak about mental health at work and lack the confidence to discuss it with their line manager. Part of this is the insecurity of the modern working world; our research with the IPPR published this summer found that young people are more likely to be in part-time or temporary work compared to previous generations, and that those in part-time or temporary work were more likely to experience poor mental health than those working full-time. We must ensure that all employees – young and old, male and female, whether they work full- or part-time – feel that they are able to speak up about their mental health at work and are confident that they can do so without fear of the consequences.

There is some good news – more people feel comfortable talking about mental health at work, more line managers recognise that employee mental health and wellbeing forms part of their responsibilities, and more employees believe their organisation cares about their wellbeing. But we need to make sure that this increased understanding is now turned into effective action. Achieving this ambition will require a collective effort by employers to end discrimination and deliver the best support.