Mental ill health increasingly taboo at work

Better protection for workers is vital after Brexit

Research published today shows the stigma associated with mental health in the workplace has grown significantly since 2009 despite the introduction of the Equality Act 2010.

A survey of 550 employers shows that although awareness of mental health issues has more than doubled, half of employers view staff with mental health conditions as a ‘significant risk’ to their business, an increase of 10% since 2009.

Over half of employers are reluctant to employ someone with a mental health condition due to a fear of that person being stigmatised by co-workers (56%, up from 51% in 2009). 42% of employers surveyed stated that people with mental health conditions are less reliable, a figure which has nearly doubled since 2009.

The number of employers taking the view that someone who has been off work for more than a few weeks is ‘unlikely to ever fully recover’ has also increased threefold, from 11% in 2009 to 38% in 2017. Furthermore, the proportion of employers disagreeing with this statement has fallen drastically, from 73% to 35%.

There has been a further 17% decline in the number of respondents who would be flexible in offering adjustments or accommodations to someone with mental ill health, despite obligations enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act.

More positively, the survey shows that since the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 there has been a 30% increase in the number of businesses with policies on mental health, with 76% of large companies having policies in place. In comparison, only 25% of small and medium-sized enterprises had workplace mental health policies.

However, motives behind the adoption of mental health policies have come into question. 60% of respondents stated that policies have been adopted to avoid litigation, an increase of 27% since 2009.

The survey has been carried out by Shaw Trust, a national employment charity, who have surveyed attitudes in 2006, 2009 and 2017.

Impact of Brexit

With ten months left until the UK leaves the European Union, the government has yet to include adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in domestic legislation. As of now, it is only enshrined in European legislation, meaning that after March 2019 this legislation will no longer apply to UK law.

Shaw Trust is calling for the government to strengthen the Equality Act and enshrine the UN Convention for the Rights of people with Disabilities in UK law after Brexit, a move it says is essential to protect the employment rights of people experiencing mental ill health and mental health conditions. 

In response to the findings of the survey the employment charity is calling for the government to strengthen protection for workers with mental health conditions after Britain leaves the European Union as part of a package of measures which includes:

• Strengthening the Equality Act and enshrining the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities in post-Brexit Britain.
• Introducing an Ofsted-style system to increase employer accountability and action through external mental health reporting.
• Ensuring that individuals with short term or recurring periods of mental ill health are protected by legislation.
• Incentivising employers to implement the six core standards from 2017’s Stevenson-Farmer mental health review.
• Better training for line managers to support employees who experience mental health conditions.
• Investing in a workplace mental health awareness and anti-stigma campaign and employer portal to share information and best practice and access to relevant schemes.

Gemma Hope, Director of Policy, Marketing an Communications, Shaw Trust, said:

“Sadly, mental health remains the last workplace taboo. Whilst our survey shows some progress, the results reflect an entrenching of the stigma experienced by many employees with mental ill health. However, Shaw Trust remains positive that there is a clear will from the government and wider society to tackle the problem.

“We have reached a fork in the road in managing mental health in the workplace, but we hope the measures we propose can help change the way employers work with, and support, colleagues with mental health conditions”.