Time to Talk: Are you willing to talk about your mental health at work?

People are an organisation’s biggest asset, and the 37 million people that make up the working age population are the greatest economic resource that the UK has. This is why it is important to develop our understanding of employee health and wellbeing (both mental and physical) and recognise the impact that poor health and wellbeing can have for the individual, organisations and society.

One in every eight UK employees – that is some 4 million people – are working with a mental health condition (and these are the employees we know about – the figure could be a lot higher). Research into mental health at work has found that:

  • Over half (51%) of employees with mental health conditions felt that health affected their work, with 20% reporting that it affected their work a great deal
  • 21% of employees with a mental health condition reported very low life satisfaction
  • One quarter of employees said they would be uncomfortable discussing their mental health with their employer

Stigma around mental health is still a significant workplace barrier for getting the support they need to remain in work, work productively and manage their health at work. Many employees with a mental health condition feel unsupported, and increases in support for physical health conditions at work have not been replicated in mental health (in fact, access to mental health focussed independent counselling had dropped).

This last point is why initiatives such as Time to Talk’ are so important.  The aims of the campaign include: to improve public attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health problems, reduce the discrimination that people with mental health problems report in their relationships and work and ensure that people with mental health can take action to challenge stigma and discrimination in community and at work.

And the campaign seems to be working, with research suggesting that attitudes and behaviours towards those with mental health problems are improving, and fewer people experiencing discrimination.  Additionally the research reported that people’s willingness to live with, work with and continue a relationship with someone with mental health problems have improved.

So what can employers do?

Making adjustments to the nature of work, to working hours and to the support available at work is a legal obligation for employees managing people with health conditions. However, people with mental health conditions are less likely to have adjustments made, despite 22% reporting that adjustments would be helpful.  Communication is key if employers want to support people with mental health conditions at work.  Of course, it is up to the employee to decide whether they would like to disclose their condition, but line managers need to show and communicate support to employees, and also have an understanding as to where to signpost employees for additional help.  Line manager training may be beneficial for this, including initiatives such as Mental Health First Aid.  Employees need to know that disclosure is not going to negatively affect them, or their role in anyway and feel that there will be people there to support them.

Finding a solution may be difficult, but taking the time to talk about mental health may at least start both the employee and the employer on the right path to better outcomes for both parties.

So today, take the time out, to put the kettle on to have tea and a chat – you will not know how beneficial it could be.