In December 2011 the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) published a report entitled ‘Focus on mental health in the workplace’, which outlined the findings of a survey of over 2,000 employees to identify their experiences and attitudes about mental health in the workplace. The full report can be downloaded from the CIPD website but some of the key findings are summarised below.
A significant proportion of respondents (26% – more women than men) report they have experienced mental health problems while in employment. Interestingly, more than half (53%) of people who describe their mental health as poor say they always go to work when experiencing poor mental health and 42% say they sometimes do. This suggests that managing people with mental health problems in the workplace is just as important as managing their absence when they go off sick.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, significant numbers of respondents reported that going to work with poor mental health affects their ability to do their job. This is a challenge for employers who will clearly want to keep staff at work but will want to avoid the problem of presenteeism (i.e. staff coming to work when they are really too ill to function effectively). Respondents reported a number of difficulties when at work with poor mental health, including:
- finding it difficult to concentrate;
- difficulty juggling a number of tasks;
- taking longer to do tasks;
- being put off by challenging tasks;
- being less patient with customers and clients;
- reduced ability to make decisions;
- increased likelihood of conflict with colleagues;
- more difficulty learning new tasks.
So, taking into account that more than a quarter of respondents have experienced mental health problems and more than half of people who describe their mental health as poor say they always go to work when experiencing mental ill health with some significant impact on their ability to do their jobs, what did employees report about the support they receive in the workplace?
Only four in ten respondents would feel confident disclosing a mental health problem to their employer or manager, while only one in four say their organisation encourages staff to talk openly about mental health problems. Those respondents who have disclosed mental health problems, however, reported quite positive experiences. Of the 43% of respondents (more women than men) who described their mental health as poor and have disclosed their stress or mental health problems to their employer or manager, 73% said they had not experienced any adverse treatment as a result and only 13% of respondents reported having received no support at all – the significant majority reported having received a lot of support or some support.
Employers/managers have an important role to play not only in supporting employees who are at work with mental health conditions, but also in supporting those who want to return to work after mental illness (an important part of a person’s recovery). Of course, employers are not expected to deal with an employee’s problems themselves. Instead, they should learn to recognise signs that somebody is struggling at work, encourage employees to talk about their issues and know where to find professional advice. A good starting point is the Health for Work Adviceline for immediate, professional guidance and signposting to relevant services, where necessary. Call 0800 0 77 88 44 for more information.