Half of managers ‘consider mental ill-health a liability’

Experts call on HR to take responsibility for creating an environment where people can talk about issues

Half of senior managers privately consider workers with mental ill-health a liability, new research has suggested, as employees continue to raise concerns that admitting mental health problems to their bosses could harm their careers.

In a survey of both workers and managers, conducted by TalkOut, 51 per cent of managers admitted they considered a worker who was mentally unwell to be a “liability”.

The research, which polled 200 senior managers and 2,000 workers, also found 65 per cent of managers thought talking about mental health at work was a sign of weakness, and 84 per cent felt employees risked missing out on a promotion by admitting mental health issues.

Similarly, 68 per cent of the workers polled believed that telling their boss they were suffering from some form of mental health issue would impact on their job.

Jill Mead, co-founder and managing director of TalkOut, said: “HR managers and business leaders must take responsibility for ensuring their organisation has a mentally healthy environment where people can talk about mental health in the same way they talk about physical health without fear of consequences.

“If we’re going to make any progress, mental health needs to stop being seen as a taboo, particularly in professional environments, and there needs to be an understanding and acknowledgement that people with mental health conditions can often thrive at work with the right support.”

The research findings were echoed by the results of a separate poll by Hays, which found half of professionals (49 per cent) believed there was unequal access to career progression opportunities because of mental health.

In the survey of 5,200 professionals and employers, 26 per cent of respondents with a history of mental health conditions said their health had affected their chances of being selected for a job, while 60 per cent of the same group said they were uncomfortable providing information on their mental health when applying for a job.

Yvonne Smyth, group head of diversity and inclusion at Hays, said it was becoming more apparent that employers needed to “step up to negate the concerns employees have around unequal access to career progression linked with mental health”.

Smyth said employees should provide structured career progression plans for all workers, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity or mental health history, adding: “For employers, it may be small steps initially, such as talking more openly about mental health and what resources are available, or ensuring managers have access to training in order to better spot signs of mental ill-health.”

Lee Biggins, founder and CEO of CV-Library, said employees needed to consider what mental health support was most appropriate for their businesses. “Poor mental health can take on many forms, whether it’s a drop in productivity, general detachment or burnout. As an employer, it’s important to watch out for these symptoms and act immediately to support your employees,” he said.

CV-Library has just released its own research finding that, in a poll of 2,000 UK professionals, a third (33.2 per cent) feared they would be judged unfairly if they told their boss about concerns over mental health, with 39 per cent claiming that their boss “wouldn’t care”.

Biggins said: “Don’t underestimate the power of simply asking employees ‘how are you doing?’ Creating the chance for an open dialogue can ensure early prevention and intervention.”