draconian workplaces, mental health conditions
© Martin Novak

Mental health has been a prominent topic in the UK media during 2019, and yet in the draconian workplace, it appears the struggle continues despite the high profile campaigns

Throughout this year we have seen bold mental health campaigns from the UK charity Mind, the Mental Health Foundation and the launch of Heads Together, a mental health charity set up by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry.

According to research by the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 6 people experience mental health in the workplace, and 12% of all sickness absence in the UK is attributed to mental health conditions.

The truth is, these statistics could be much higher as there are still fears attached to openly admitting to employers when people are struggling with mental ill-health.

While 1 in 3 sick notes in the UK are related to mental health conditions, some GP’s have openly commented that many patients prefer their GP not to claim that it is relating to mental health, instead requesting that it is put down to fatigue or migraines.

Which means the real statistics for those taking sick leave for mental ill-health could be far higher.

It seems that in the UK we’re still not feeling safe enough to discuss these critical issues in the workplace, or with employers.

But could this be due to the draconian approach that many organisations continue to push on employees?

People are afraid to talk

A survey by the mental health charity Mind found that 1 in 3 people in the UK are afraid to talk to their line managers about their mental health.

When questioned further on the reasons, employees stated that they feared being judged, with 1 in 5 reporting they would feel ostracised from the larger organisation.

Sadly 4 in 10 people felt that it would be better to suffer in silence than to openly admit to their struggles.

In a time where mental health is now becoming more understood, it appears that in the workplace, the culture of empathy remains void.

For people to feel they can talk about their problems without the risk of losing their job or becoming alienated from the company, we have to breed a culture of compassion.

There are great risks to an individual’s personal wellbeing when you create a workplace environment that stifles open conversation.

People who are struggling with mental ill-health can already begin to separate themselves from their existing relationships with friends and family. When it happens in the workplace, this may not be obvious if a cold culture exists, so when they reach critical condition, it can not be as quickly noticed.

Stigma still exists

Research from Mind UK has shown that 17% of people who have talked to their boss about their mental health issues feel they were misunderstood.

For all the progress we are making as a society to bring mental health awareness out of the dark ages, many employers continue to dismiss those struggling with conditions. This only strengthens the stigma that exists within a workplace culture.

The fear of discrimination holds people back from openly talking about mental health at work, which only causes more harm to employees and organisations in the long-term.

Presenteeism hit a record high in the UK during 2018, with more employees reporting that they have worked while feeling unwell. The report by the CIPD revealed that the increase was due to mental health conditions, with employees not feeling that they could request time off.

If employees feel that they must work while stressed or depressed, this is a sign that the organisation is not supporting individuals with mental health conditions.

Workplaces that ignore mental health issues, or downplay the impact it has on individuals lives are operating a company culture that severely damages the health and wellbeing of employees.

Outdated attitudes cause harm

Language plays a key role in supporting those struggling with mental health conditions. How people are treated can make a mental health condition much better, or far worse.

However, in the workplace physical illness is still taken more seriously than a mental health illness. In a survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation, 65% of line managers felt that taking time off for a physical illness was treated more actively than taking time off for mental health.

A core part of improving the workplace culture around mental health is becoming more mindful about the language we use and ensuring that a culture of openness is generated.

Workplaces can help employees think about mental illness as they would any other disease, yet we still see more empathy for those with a physical condition than with a mental health condition.

Mental wellbeing is not a priority

Many organisations pay lip service to the changes they are making when it comes to supporting employees with mental ill health, but it seems few are taking real action.

In the Workplace Wellbeing Report, only 24% of line managers have received any mental health training, and in a review by the CIPD, only 25% of employees say their organisation has taken steps to improve mental wellbeing over the last year.

Despite the staggering amount of research indicating the impact of positive workplace culture on mental health, few organisations are really taking the necessary action to support employees.

Creating mentally healthy workplaces must be seen as a priority if we as a society are to overcome the stigma that surrounds mental ill-health.

Poor attitudes, bad language and discriminating employees due to mental ill-health must stop if we are to save lives.

As we spend the majority of our lives at work, organisations need to realise their responsibility for employee wellbeing and take action to support the people they employ.

Organisations that believe they can continue in this way will become obsolete, as more people are making the choice to work for employers who value wellbeing, and invest in initiatives that support mental health.


Lizzie Benton

Culture Consultant

Liberty Mind Ltd


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