Only a Third of Workers with Mental Health Problems Feel Supported by Their Boss

Just over a third (34%) of workers who have experienced a mental health problem in the past five years have felt well supported by their line manager, a new survey has revealed.

New research from the Mental Health Foundation and employee benefits provider Unum, which was released to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week (8-14 May), shows a stark disconnect exists when it comes to line managers’ understanding of mental health problems in the workplace and the challenges faced by employees who are experiencing distress at work.

According to the research, only half (50%) of line managers feel confident they could recognise signs that a member of their team was suffering from a mental health problem.

Furthermore, the study found line managers “routinely overestimate” how much support is available to employees in their workplace, with 45% of managers saying an employee experiencing a mental health issue would be supported to remain in work by making reasonable adjustments to their role.

However, less than a fifth (19%) of employees said they actually received such support, highlighting the stark disconnect that exists between employees and line managers.

In addition, the research shows that employees place much greater importance on having good relationships with their line managers and do not tolerate the stigma that is often associated with mental health issues.

In fact, nearly two thirds (64%) of workers who have previously experienced a mental health problem said they wanted to see a zero tolerance approach to mental health stigma in the workplace. In contrast, just 44% of line managers called for the same thing.

Previous experience of a mental health problem can be valuable

The research also found that employees who have experienced a mental health problem can be valuable in supporting colleagues who are going through a similar situation as they are much better prepared to help their co-workers.

This is evident in the fact that 73% of workers who have experienced a mental health problem say they would know how to have conversation with a colleague who was finding it difficult to cope. In comparison, only 60% of line managers who have never experienced a mental health issue said the same.

Overall, the survey found that of the employees who had experienced a mental health problem in the past five years, 58% had chosen to disclose this to their employer. More than half (54%) said they had a positive experience as a result. However, 15% reported a mainly negative experience, and felt discriminated against.

Chris O’Sullivan, head of workplace mental health at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “We need to find ways for employers to promote and protect mental health across their businesses. A key way to do that is through encouraging and supporting those who have relevant experience to use that in their own development, and in providing support to others.”

Liz Walker, HR director for Unum UK, said that while businesses are starting to give mental health problems more attention, more needs to be done going forward.

“There is no excuse to brush this under the carpet any more, it’s time for all organisations and leaders to be more vocal about mental health stigma and take responsibility for improving mental health and wellbeing in the workplace,” she said.


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