Awareness of mental health in the workplace has come a long way in the past decade, but there’s still a long way to go. Anecdotally, it’s still common to hear of workers concealing their issues from colleagues and bosses. Of course, many people may never feel comfortable having deep conversations with their colleagues about what they believe to be private matters, but it’s important that the possibility must be available.
Disclosing your mental health struggles at work can mean sharing more of yourself than you might want to, and – depending on the company – that could end up working against you.
For example, even though it’s illegal, unsympathetic companies might withhold promotions, quietly question an employee’s stability and reliability, or give them fewer responsibilities.
Since most people spend most of their life at work, isn’t it better to speak about your problems instead of bottling them up? This, of course, will be dependent on your company, so it’s subjective. If there are policies in place that encourage openness, or if your boss is forthcoming, then employees are more likely to be honest about their personal situations. At TopLine Comms, we wanted to find out how common it really is for workers to conceal their personal issues from the workplace. That’s why we commissioned a study of over 1,000 working adults to find out about their attitudes toward mental health.
Over 70% of those surveyed reported experiencing mental health issues at some time during their working life. Of those, 54% reported having hidden mental health issues from their co-workers. It appears from our survey that anecdotal evidence was correct, and this is indeed a prevalent issue. We also asked survey respondents what they found most stressful about their work. The number one response was work overload, at 47%. Long hours were the second most common response, at 32%, followed by conflicts with customers and job insecurity, both at 24%.
Mental health issues will affect most people at some point in their life, and building the right structure to support employees through these periods is essential. Our survey found that 15% of respondents had lost a job due to mental health issues.
Companies that fail to offer support risk losing talented employees, and they may also lose out when it comes to hiring. Many potential employees will seek companies with a considered and caring people strategy in place.
The good news is that 59% believe that their workplace does offer resources to support them with mental health issues, and 56% say that they are willing to discuss these issues with their boss. We’re past the halfway mark on both counts, and that’s something to be pleased about.
Similarly, 71% agreed that recent media coverage about mental health had improved things for those suffering with mental health issues. Openly discussing mental health is crucial to making progress. In fact, number one on my list of nine ways you can make your workplace more mental health-friendly was to encourage – but not force – openness about mental health.
In large organisations it can really help when you have the people at the top leading the way and creating this kind of environment, as it filters down to the rest of the business and people will often feel more comfortable following suit.
We are always working on our own mental health policy at TopLine, as we aim to be more open about the impact of mental health on the workforce and do more to support our team. In addition to the policies and mechanisms we already have in place – including our four-legged emotional support team, the office dogs Devon and Bailey – we’re working on developing a ‘mental health toolkit’ of resources that employees find helpful. We’re also exploring the idea of appointing mental health first aiders in the coming months.
It’s heartening to see progress in this area, that little by little through greater support networks and sharing our personal stories we can make a difference. However, almost half of respondents still don’t feel comfortable addressing their mental health at work, and we need to continue our efforts for those people. It’s encouraging that workplaces are becoming more mental-health friendly, but there is still a lot to do.
Heather Baker is the CEO and founder, TopLine Comms and TopLine Film.
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