Why does the workplace accept a broken leg, but not a broken mind?
PUBLISHED: 18:28 23 January 2019
Rachel Moore says more needs to be done to monitor mental health in the workplace - starting with companies declaring their support to at-risk employees
Celebrities might be comfortable with revealing all about their struggles with mental health, but how many of you would feel at ease discussing yours with your boss?
Exactly. Palpitations, anxious, nervous? There would be no hesitation to talk about your broken leg with your MD or line manager, but when it comes to talking about depression, anxiety and stress, it’s a different matter.
It shouldn’t be any different, but business has been pitifully slow in losing distinction between a broken limb and a broken mind.
Employees still fear they will be viewed as weak, flaky, unreliable and unworthy of investment and advancement, so they keep it hidden, to their own cost too often.
Despite lots of claptrap and lip service to listening more for a wider understanding of people and how people are engineered and work, the workplace is still too macho, hard and focused on strength.
Action as well as words is needed but it’s woefully slow in appearing in the workplace.
Celebrities can talk about their issues to encourage greater openness, but, in real life, on the factory floor, in offices and workshops, the prospect of confiding mental health issues are seriously affecting your wellbeing is terrifying; as petrifying as standing on the desk and revealing a sexually transmitted disease to the entire workforce. Naked.
Despite awareness campaigns, soaring prescription rate for anti-depressants and media openness that mental health problems can happen to anyone, just like catching a cold or spraining an ankle, and just as unexpectedly, employees still fear a stigma about speaking openly.
They still fear a label if they admit to finding life and work tough. A big red ‘beware. Can’t cope’ stamp appearing on their CV. Like signing their own redundancy papers.
Can any employer reading this can, hand on heart, say that they would never view an employee who took time off for mental health issues, or revealed medication was keeping them at work, as any differently? I really hope many can, but, realistically, I doubt many can... even if, pre-revelation, that person was a high achiever, with great prospects and a fast-track candidate. Too much doubt and suspicion still surround mental health by those who don’t understand and are a little frightened to try to find out more.
I fear it will never be seen as treatable, mendable and a temporary health blip as a fracture, any other organ issues or cancer by people running business and industry.
And, if talking to your boss is hard enough, fear of isolation or judgement from colleagues in a macho business environment is just as worrying. No one wants to be viewed as feeble, swinging the lead, a “fruit loop”, as I’ve heard people describe colleagues before.
This intolerance spreads.
In Parliament this week, Waveney MP Peter Aldous called for a greater culture of mental health support in workplaces because workers struggling with stress and mental ill health are often too embarrassed to raise it for fear they may be mocked.
Companies are fastidious about appointing and training first aiders who, as custodians of the green first aid box, know how to apply a bandage treat a burn and locate and use the nearest defibrillator but what about help and support for mental health?
They tick the health and safety boxes, but what about one of the biggest rising illnesses of our time, often linked to workplace stress?
Every week, emails bombard my inbox with training course offers. Not once has one involved addressing attitudes to mental health in the workforce and how to support and manage employees suffering.
Describing someone as having mental health issues still carries an implied judgement
Research from St John Ambulance found two-thirds of people would feel uncomfortable asking for a mental health sick day. Their responses included their employer having “archaic” attitudes or that their boss would mock them.
It’s shocking and speaks volumes about the mindset of Britain’s employers. A culture of mental health aid and support in the workplace needs to be embedded now.
Some large organisations are ahead of the curve. Workers have access to counselling and support.
But in small businesses – and older generation management – are sadly less open to reality.
Ask for your company’s policy on mental health support of the workforce? Ask difficult questions of your HR team – they are there to support “human resources,” not robots. And we can all be more understanding to colleagues. An efficient successful workplace is one full of empathy, sympathy, understanding and tolerance.