In your own words: The ‘horror stories’ of how some Norfolk employers deal with mental health at work

Mental health in the workplace is an issue that continues to rise up the agenda - but is it happenin

Mental health in the workplace is an issue that continues to rise up the agenda - but is it happening quickly enough? Picture: Time To Change/Newscast Online. - Credit: Time to change/Newscast Online

'People want to be treated like people – but they're being treated like dirt,' says researcher behind the findings.

One in three employees is still afraid of speaking up about their mental health for fear it could affect their career, suggests a new survey of Norfolk workers.

They also questioned whether their managers were adequately trained, amid accounts of bosses dismissing mental health concerns as 'time wasting' and only being interested in when staff would be ready to return to work.

Tom Oxley, director of Bamboo Mental Health, which conducted the research, said it had uncovered 'horror stories'.

'Our research confirms people are working unwell in Norfolk and staying silent. Yet the first point of help should be their manager. People need to speak up and get support before, during and after absence.

'When managers spot the signs, ask and listen, an employee can get help sooner – and may avoid time off which is costly to employers and can disengage workers.'

The research found that 35% of respondents feel unable to talk to their manager about mental health problems, while 39% of managers ignored the worker or offered poor support. Some 31% said they feared their career would suffer if they spoke up about their wellbeing.

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The results also shed light on how workers wanted to be treated, with just 4% wanting to speak to their manager about their issues, and none in favour of speaking to a telephone support line. Nearly two-thirds (62%) wanted to speak to someone trained.

Mr Oxley, who has reviewed more than 30 organisations ranging from PLCs to SMEs, added: 'This local survey stacks up against national findings. People want to be treated like people but they're being treated like dirt. 15% are treated so poorly they are thinking of leaving.

'Workers don't want to be treated as 'resources'. But the support offered by some can be hazardous to health – and risky for reputation if brought to a tribunal.'

Sample responses from the research:

• 'I was given a 24-hour support line to ring. I rang it at 4am one night, in tears and feeling really, and low their response was [to tell me to] 'pull myself together'. I told my manager the next day and HR but I wasn't believed.'

• 'I was told I did not have a problem and should not waste their time. I felt belittled and worthless. I felt very resentful towards my employers and it did nothing to make me an effective member of staff.'

• 'I wanted to leave and look for another job but my self-esteem was too low.'

• 'On my return to work I told them how I felt the situation had escalated and what the problems were. They did remove me from the piece of work that had caused the problem but provided no additional support, only suggesting that I take up yoga!'

• 'I was off work with stress for two weeks. I came back and immediately had loads of work thrown at me. I left again within the hour. No one even asked how I was doing.'

• '[I was] feeling incredibly stressed and undervalued and felt like walking out.'

• 'They had no real concern about my health apart from when I would be back at work and refused to give me a more beneficial work hour pattern.'

• 'I lost my job at two of my employers due to mental health issues.'

To give managers the skills to tackle the problem, a Mental Health for Managers course will take place on October 3 at The Open in Norwich, to provide an insight into the challenges around mental health in the workplace.

Run by Bamboo and workplace wellbeing specialists The Engaging People Company, it will show managers and HR professionals the signs to look out for and practical tips on how to talk about mental health and offer immediate support.

Michelle Gant, director of The Engaging People Company, said: 'Managers have an absolutely critical role in supporting and promoting wellbeing within the workplace but conversations about mental health can be daunting.

'We want to equip managers with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be able to talk to employees and offer them the support they need, which will benefit not only the individuals but the organisation.'

'If a manager doesn't listen, or doesn't know what to say, the worker ends up taking ad hoc time off or at the doctor's. The manager can stop this situation occurring.'

For details of the conference, click here.

'If people are looked after, they are more loyal, absences are shorter and they stay longer at a company. There is a simple manager mantra – keep the team well, keep the team working. Managers need to spot the signs and know when to step in.'