Dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion: what happens when employees disclose poor mental health?

Over a million UK employees have faced negative consequences after disclosing their mental health issues at work, according to a new report. It found that while business is waking up to the scale of poor mental health in the workplace, there is still a long way to go.

For the new report Mental Health at Work, which was published today, by the charity Business in the Community,YouGov surveyed over 3,000 people in work across the UK.

It found that three in five (60%) employees have experienced mental health issues because of work. Yet despite 53% of people feeling comfortable talking about mental health at work, a significant percentage of employees risk serious repercussions for disclosing a mental health issue.

Dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion?

“Mental health as a workplace issue remains the elephant in the room that over a million people face serious repercussions for disclosing mental health issues to their employers,” says Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director, Business in the Community. She was responding to the findings that 15% of employees face dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion after disclosing a mental health issue at work (compared to 9% identified in similar research undertaken in 2016) says the new study.

Scaled up to the general working population, this could mean as many as 1.2 million people* negatively affected for disclosing mental health problems. No wonder then that the report also found that just 11% of people felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager. The situation is even worse when you dig deeper into the research: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic employees are less likely to feel comfortable talking about mental health at work (43% compared to 54% of white employees).

Improved attitudes

However, the report highlights some significant improvement in attitudes towards mental health in the workplace. Nine out of ten mangers agree that what they do affects the wellbeing of their staff and 84% of employers acknowledge that they have a responsibility towards their employee’s mental wellbeing.


Despite those attitudes, however, less than a quarter (24%) of managers have received any training in mental health. This is in spite of the fact that half of line managers would welcome training on mental health conditions (and a further 35% report not having any workplace facilities or services to support employee mental health and wellbeing).

Urgent call to action

This report is an urgent call to action for collective leadership from employers to end this injustice and provide better support, says Aston. There remains a pervasive culture of silence over mental health at work with three out of four people affected choosing not to involve anyone at work, says the report.

Dr Wolfgang Seidl, UK and European Workplace Health Consulting Leader for Mercer – sponsor of the study, says: “Destigmatisation of mental health is sorely needed and can be achieved by moving from a piecemeal approach of isolated tactical interventions to a truly strategic approach. Having in place a coherent mental health pathway with appropriate referral opportunities at the right time is essential.”

What can employers do?

Business in the Community has published actions and recommendations to help businesses address the stigma around mental health and take practical action to remove it. The full report and recommendations are available here.


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