Experts blame lack of trust as survey finds one in six workers do not receive enough mental health support

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Calls made for managers to be open about their own wellbeing challenges to create a safe space for staff to seek help

by Mahalia Mayne 8 August 2023

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Experts are blaming a ‘lack of trust’ in workplaces after a new report found only one sixth (16 per cent) of employees feel they receive sufficient mental health support at work.

The JLA report reveals that anxiety is on the rise, with more than half (55 per cent) of employees having experienced ‘severe anxiety’ because of their work in the last 12 months.

And the report, which surveyed employees from 150 companies, found a number of knock-on effects, including two fifths (39 per cent) of workers actively avoiding leadership roles in company-wide meetings and 31 per cent not leading team meetings because of anxiety.

Chloe Angus, leadership coach and trainer, said the major issue in team cultures where employees do not feel safe speaking up about mental health was the “lack of trust”. She said: “If team members do not feel they can trust their employer with this information, they will not disclose it.

“This can cause many personal coping techniques from masking to not taking on new responsibilities and often a worsening of symptoms,” she explained, adding that if there was a lack of trust, it was easy to see how this could lead to a lack of commitment and accountability.

Angus also said that people were hesitant to share mental health issues at work, especially with HR and management, because of “fear of judgement”, adding that she felt this because she went through the same experience.

This coincides with a recent Reed study of more than 2,000 employees and jobseekers throughout the UK, which discovered that 23 per cent of respondents would prefer not to disclose their mental health concerns at work.

Additionally, it found that 28 per cent of employees thought disclosing this would hinder their career growth, 36 per cent felt too exposed and vulnerable and 39 per cent believed they would be judged negatively if they did.

Gethin Nadin, psychologist and UK chief innovation officer at Benefex,  said we must create an environment in which employees feel comfortable telling the truth. “This comes from leaders being trusted and can often be achieved through showing more vulnerability in the workplace,” he said, stressing that when leaders and managers open up about their mental health challenges it creates a “safe space and emboldens other employees to share their stories too”.

According to the JLA study, more than four in five (84 per cent) UK employees feel their company’s support for employees suffering from anxiety is insufficient, while 28 per cent stated they were not comfortable raising issues with their manager or HR team.

In terms of what HR can realistically do if employees refuse to disclose their mental health, Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at Partners&, advised employers to first recognise that there was no "silver bullet" to combating poor mental health and that there were many smaller mitigations that “when taken together can create a robust package of tools to help workers with their mental health.”

Herbert said companies should aim to use all of the tools at their disposal, including introducing well-trained and supported mental health first aiders as a “good first step”.

Commenting on the legal side, Mandy Armstrong, senior associate at Anderson Strathern, said mental health conditions can amount to disabilities in terms of the Equality Act 2010, and employers were under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees where they know or ought reasonably to have known “of the disability and the disadvantage faced by the employee”.

As a result, “if an employee fails to declare that they have a disability, the employer is not necessarily off the hook if they regardless should have known of the disability”, she explained.

“In a situation where the employer is not specifically told of the disability, whether they ought reasonably to have known will depend on the circumstances of the case; for example, how was the employee presenting at work, how was their performance at work and was there any medical evidence in place?” she added.

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Calls made for managers to be open about their own wellbeing challenges to create a safe space for staff to seek help. by Mahalia Mayne 8 August 2023. Share article on Twitter. Share article on Facebook. Share article on LinkedIn. Experts are blaming a ‘lack of trust’ in workplaces after a new report found only one sixth (16 per cent) of employees feel they receive sufficient mental health support at work. The JLA report reveals that anxiety is on the rise, with more than half (55 per cent) of employees having experienced ‘severe anxiety’ because of their work in the last 12 months. And the report, which surveyed employees from 150 companies, found a number of knock-on effects, including two fifths (39 per cent) of workers actively avoiding leadership roles in company-wide meetings and 31 per cent not leading team meetings because of anxiety. Chloe Angus, leadership coach and trainer, said the major issue in team cultures where employees do not feel safe speaking up about mental health was the “lack of trust”. She said: “If team members do not feel they can trust their employer with this information, they will not disclose it. “This can cause many personal coping techniques from masking to not taking on new responsibilities and often a worsening of symptoms,” she explained, adding that if there was a lack of trust, it was easy to see how this could lead to a lack of commitment and accountability. Angus also said that people were hesitant to share mental health issues at work, especially with HR and management, because of “fear of judgement”, adding that she felt this because she went through the same experience. This coincides with a recent Reed study of more than 2,000 employees and jobseekers throughout the UK, which discovered that 23 per cent of respondents would prefer not to disclose their mental health concerns at work. Additionally, it found that 28 per cent of employees thought disclosing this would hinder their career growth, 36 per cent felt too exposed and vulnerable and 39 per cent believed they would be judged negatively if they did. Gethin Nadin, psychologist and UK chief innovation officer at Benefex,  said we must create an environment in which employees feel comfortable telling the truth. “This comes from leaders being trusted and can often be achieved through showing more vulnerability in the workplace,” he said, stressing that when leaders and managers open up about their mental health challenges it creates a “safe space and emboldens other employees to share their stories too”. According to the JLA study, more than four in five (84 per cent) UK employees feel their company’s support for employees suffering from anxiety is insufficient, while 28 per cent stated they were not comfortable raising issues with their manager or HR team. In terms of what HR can realistically do if employees refuse to disclose their mental health, Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at Partners&, advised employers to first recognise that there was no "silver bullet" to combating poor mental health and that there were many smaller mitigations that “when taken together can create a robust package of tools to help workers with their mental health.” Herbert said companies should aim to use all of the tools at their disposal, including introducing well-trained and supported mental health first aiders as a “good first step”. Commenting on the legal side, Mandy Armstrong, senior associate at Anderson Strathern, said mental health conditions can amount to disabilities in terms of the Equality Act 2010, and employers were under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees where they know or ought reasonably to have known “of the disability and the disadvantage faced by the employee”. As a result, “if an employee fails to declare that they have a disability, the employer is not necessarily off the hook if they regardless should have known of the disability”, she explained. “In a situation where the employer is not specifically told of the disability, whether they ought reasonably to have known will depend on the circumstances of the case; for example, how was the employee presenting at work, how was their performance at work and was there any medical evidence in place?” she added. Related Articles. Half of UK workers say work is becoming more ‘intense’, with staff shortages and tech to blame, poll suggests. 26 July 2023 by Dan Cave. Experts warn that while trouble recruiting is part of the issue, managers, work cultures and ‘industrial changes’ all impact the increase in pressure. How to tackle employee wellbeing in our ever-changing world. 9 June 2023 by Cathy Smith. Keeping workers happy and healthy goes much further than ping-pong tables and fruit bowls, says Cathy Smith. Two thirds of UK employees say workplace anxiety has increased on return to office, study finds. 24 May 2023 by Dan Cave. Research also shows more than half of workers have experienced a panic attack at work, as experts dub the data ‘deeply concerning’ More on this Topic. Illegal migrant worker crackdown – what do employers need to know? Can HR stop wage dissatisfaction among employees? Data analyst who ran a ‘sex work’ website and advertised his employer’s car park as his base for another business was unfairly dismissed, tribunal rules. Two fifths of employees say weight discrimination is 'not serious enough' to report to HR, study finds. L&D practitioners completed 29 million hours of training this year – are they feeling the demand?