Employees uncomfortable discussing personal issues with line managers, poll finds

Only a minority of workers would be happy discussing mental health, financial worries or grief at work, leading to calls for better manager training

Just two in five employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their line manager, new data has revealed, leading to calls from experts for employers to review their training practices.

The poll of more than 2,000 UK employees who had been working from home during the pandemic found that just 41 per cent of those polled said they would raise mental health concerns with their manager.

Similarly, the research, conducted by BHSF, found just a third (36 per cent) would feel comfortable discussing physical health problems with their line manager, while 28 per cent would talk about financial concerns, and only 22 per cent would discuss grief.

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The findings have led experts to call for employers to do more to support managers as a point of contact for employees.

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said that while managers are not the ones who should be providing advice about mental health, “they should be aware of the early signs of stress and mental ill-health and be able to signpost to relevant support services.”

“Employers should also address bad working practices, such as unmanageable workloads and poor work-life balance, which can make existing mental health conditions worse,” Suff added.

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This was echoed by Ruth Wilkinson, head of health and safety at the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). While it was not surprising that many workers felt uncomfortable discussing mental health or personal problems in the workplace, she said, employers can make it easier through good leadership.

“Creating a workplace that’s mental health-friendly has to start from the top. There has to be a clear direction shown by those running a business if there’s going to be sustained positive change”, Wilkinson said.

She added that there was a lack of understanding, training and resources needed to provide proper support, but that organisations that invest in getting the “right mental support in place for their people are reaping the rewards” through higher levels of engagement and morale and lower absence rates.

The report found that half of employees polled (50 per cent) said they had not received health and wellbeing support from their employer during the pandemic. Similarly, 45 per cent said they had negative feelings about returning to work, including 9 per cent who were ‘deeply concerned’ about their return.

Just 5 per cent of respondents said their employer had put in extra employee support services to help staff return to a more normal working pattern, compared to three-quarters (73 per cent) who said their employer had not. Another 22 per cent said they didn’t know.

However, there were also some positive findings: almost three in five (57 per cent) respondents said their employer had more respect for mental health issues than they did a year ago, compared to just 8 per cent who said the opposite.