Just a fifth of workers comfortable discussing mental health with colleagues

30 Oct 2017 By Marianne Calnan

Employers urged to create open cultures to help staff feel more able to talk

Only a fifth (21 per cent) of workers are comfortable talking about mental health with their colleagues, compared with 42 per cent who feel they can talk about physical health problems, according to a new survey.

The study of 2,000 workers from Opinium Research also found that just shy of a quarter (24 per cent) felt they could not confide in anyone at work about their mental health, and just 15 per cent have someone at work who checks on their wellbeing regularly.

“Mental health is increasingly, and deservedly, becoming a topic that the UK is broaching,” said James Endersby, managing director of Opinium. “Our research has revealed that UK workers are more likely to discuss a physical affliction than mental ill-health, which is something that will continue to leave such people suffering in silence. More conversations on health and greater pastoral support at work will shed greater light on mental health and aide those afflicted to open up about their problems.”

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “Creating a mentally healthy workplace requires strong leadership, and training for line managers to ensure they can spot the warning signs of mental ill-health, have sensitive conversations with employees when needed and signpost staff to expert sources of help when appropriate.​“

And Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, told People Management: “Those with mental health problems still face many barriers to living full and independent lives, and many employees still don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health and stress. As attitudes begin to change, more companies are asking the right questions and taking the right steps to start the conversation with their employees.”

Mamo urged employers to create open cultures to help staff feel comfortable enough to discuss their mental wellbeing “without being perceived as weak or incapable”.

The Opinium study also found that women were more likely than men to feel they have adequate personal support at work, with 58 per cent of women saying they had somebody to support them at the office compared with just under half (49 per cent) of men.

Those in the healthcare profession (63 per cent) were most likely to feel they had adequate support for their mental health. By comparison, just 40 per cent of those in the legal sector believed they were adequately supported.

Meanwhile, a government-backed study released last week discovered that mental ill-health was costing employers as much as £42bn – and the wider economy up to £99bn – a year. The Stevenson/Farmer review, also known as the Thriving at work report, found that every £1 a business invested into supporting mental health at work generated a return of up to £9, and warned that 300,000 people lose their job each year because of long-term mental health problems.

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