16 August 2017
Speak Out – Don’t Assume Bosses Won’t Want to Help
I read with interest the findings of research carried out by mental health charity Mind recently.
Apparently work is more likely to be a cause of mental health issues for men than women with men being twice as likely to have mental health problems due to our jobs compared to problems outside of work. One in three men attribute poor mental health to their work, compared to one in seven who say it’s problems elsewhere.
Women, on the other hand, say that their job and problems outside of work are equal contributing factors with one in five citing their job as the reason for their mental health issues, the same as those who say problems outside of the workplace are to blame.
It’s disappointing to read that men are struggling so much with issues in the workplace - it’s not something I’ve noticed professionally where I deal with men and women who experience mental health problems due to work in equal measure. Part of me feels much of it has to do with this idea of not wanting to appear unfit for a job.
Indeed Mind said many men work in industries where a “macho culture” exists which may prevent them from opening up about their feelings. Just under a third of men said the culture in their organisation makes it possible to speak openly about their mental health problems.
But even in professions which don’t necessarily have such an obvious culture of ‘put up and shut up’, men - and women - may still feel that they shouldn’t seek help in case they’re overlooked for upcoming projects or promotions.
Men who reach a level in business where they are perceived or expected to have a degree of resilience, to suggest that they might not have that degree of resilience is difficult.
But we need to get past the idea that mental illness is anything but an illness. It’s not that those who are suffering are not strong enough or unwilling to handle challenges at work, it’s that they may need to do things in a different way or need support, in the same way that people with a physical disability would.
It’s sad that seven years after the Equality Act was passed, people are still reluctant to speak out about their mental health problems despite laws being there to protect them if it leads to discrimination.
It’s not that those who are suffering are not strong enough or unwilling to handle challenges at work, it’s that they may need to do things in a different way or need support, in the same way that people with a physical disability would.
If a mental illness amounts to a disability, employees have protection under the act and employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments and take into account the disability when it comes to the work they do.
The definition of a disability is something that has, or is likely to have, a long term effect on your day to day activities whether that is physically or cognitively.
You have protection under the law to make sure that you’re not treated unfairly because of your illness but if you’re reluctant to speak to your employer first, speak to a friend or family member.
If you don’t feel confident enough to speak to your manager straightaway, talk to a colleague you trust.
If you go to a manager but don’t receive the help or support you need, you can escalate it because you are protected.
If your employer does nothing to help you, they’re in breach of duty to you. As well as that, their actions could also lead to a personal injury complaint.
Some are better than others but don’t take as read that they won’t offer you any support.
Campaigns in recent years have educated people about mental health problems and employers know or ought to know what they have to do to look after their staff.
I’ve had situations where members of staff have come to me in the past and, aside from the professional obligation to help and support them, I’d want to do that anyway.
Don’t assume your bosses won’t want to help you.
If you would like to speak to an employment solicitor, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online and we will be happy to help.
David Hodge is an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Cambridge.