The overwhelming majority (94 per cent) of business leaders admit there is a prejudice in their organisation towards people with mental health issues, according to research conducted by Bupa.
Almost all (88 per cent) claim they are trying to encourage an open culture of discussion around mental health and yet as many as 70 per cent of employees dont feel they can speak candidly about such issues or concerns.
The study, Breaking the Silence, identifies the disconnect between what leaders think they are doing to support good mental health and what employees say they are actually experiencing.
While three quarters (76 per cent) of business leaders know that creating a mentally healthy workforce makes good business sense, Bupas study reveals that leaders are not as understanding as they believe. Leaders admit to labelling employees with mental health conditions unpredictable (27 per cent), erratic (22 per cent) and weak (22 per cent).
Meanwhile, almost half (47 per cent) report treading on eggshells around employees who have experienced a mental health condition and one in five leaders (22 per cent) avoid talking to them altogether.
Despite business leaders recognising the importance of addressing mental health at work there is still a long way to go to break down the wall of silence and create genuine change,” says Patrick Watt, corporate director at Bupa.
Businesses must take immediate action. Managers need to be trained to spot the signs and know how to support employees to get the right help.”
Further to the culture of silence, Bupas research reveals that worrying prejudices are negatively impacting employees progress at work. One in five employees (20 per cent) that have suffered with mental health issues have been put under pressure to resign, while half (51 per cent) believe they are less likely to get promoted.
This is reflected in the views of those at the top, with a quarter (27 per cent) of business leaders believing that workers with mental health illnesses will fail to return to full productivity. Yet over half (53 per cent) of employees who are experiencing these conditions feel they are still top performers.
Great talent is being lost and demotivated due to a lack of understanding about mental health. Yet, it is perfectly possible for employees to return to work after a mental illness, and not only perform, but excel in their roles,” adds Watt.
Business leaders must be the champions of change: tackling the stigma around mental health, eliminating practices or cultural habits that cause stress, and encouraging people to speak up and to seek help without fear or consequence. Turning a blind eye will only push issues further underground.