Dave Capper Westfield HealthMore than half of employees who have taken time off work due to mental health issues feel uncomfortable speaking to their line manager about the real reason for their absence, according to independent research.

The survey of nearly 2,000 working adults across the country by health and wellbeing company Westfield Health found that 21% of workers feel admitting the real reason for their absence would have a negative effect on their career. 

Westfield Health is calling for the ‘silence’ around the issue to be replaced with ‘open, honest conversations’ in the workplace after its research found that 30%  of employees feel they don’t have a close enough relationship with their line manager to talk openly about their mental health.

A fifth of respondents said they find it easier to say something else was the cause of their absence.

Westfield Health’s executive director, David Capper (pictured), said: “Mental illness is a fact of life and can affect anyone at any time. However, there is still a stigma surrounding it which results in this unacceptable silence in the workplace. 

“Without open, honest conversations in organisations, many employers might think they provide a good support package for employee illness, but actually it’s failing to address one of the most common problems. 

“What’s more, a lack of transparency means the problem is much bigger than many employers realise.”

The findings revealed that 34% of employees feel line managers are more interested in getting an employee back to work as soon as possible instead of supporting them in managing their mental health. In addition, 32% felt they were treated differently by their line manager on their return to work following a period of absence for mental health reasons. 

Capper called for employers to take a new approach to mental health in the workplace. “Simple steps can be taken to support colleagues whose mental health is under strain and to create a culture where employees feel safe to talk openly without facing any kind of discrimination,” he said. “Mental health should be treated the same way as physical health, but this can only begin by tackling the silence with honest conversations.

“Our research shows that this is a much bigger problem than many employers realise and without staff opening up about the real reason for their absence, managers will never know the extent of the problem and will leave themselves in danger of not properly addressing the issue.”