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Employees are scared to open up about mental health in the workplace

Wilhelm Crous - Friday, September 13, 2019

Research conducted by the University of Warwick and Opinium in the UK indicates that more than three-quarters of managers believe businesses lack key support and education around mental wellbeing in the workplace. One in five employees with mental health problems worry that telling their employer could jeopardise their career. 

In addition, a poll of 2,009 UK employees and managers found 56% of employees at some point have struggled with their mental health or wellbeing and, of these, 80% said it impacted on their work. However, more than two-thirds (67%) admitted they didn’t tell their employer about their mental ill-health. This was because either they were too embarrassed (23%), they didn’t think their employer could help (24%) or they feared it would harm their career (19%). 77% of managers said businesses needed more support and education around mental wellbeing in the workplace to help those struggling. 

The research also found that only a third (36%) of those who struggled with their mental wellbeing in the last 12 months took time off work, with the most common reasons for not taking time off being that they wanted to keep their problems to themselves (30%), they did not believe mental health was a ‘valid reason’ for time off (28%) and they did not think their employer would understand (25%).
These findings are alarming. 

We can only surmise  that the situation is similar, if not worse in SA. 

Here we deal with chronic unemployment, retrenchment, job insecurity, tough economic conditions and other pressures at work and home. With the result that burnout, depression, anxiety, stress and feelings of being overwhelmed are all prevalent among employees.

HR departments can really play a crucial role in the following ways:
  1. Create a culture to destigmatise mental health in the workplace: This culture should enhance psychological safety for employees to allow them to open up about their mental health problems.
  2. Managers should be better-trained to first identify symptoms of mental health problems and secondly to support the employees in their work when facing these problems.
  3. Identify factors and practices within the organisation that could trigger and contribute to employees experiencing mental health problems.
  4. Encourage good sleeping habits amongst managers. Ensure your employees understand that the quality of hours (preferably 8) of sleep has a significant impact on their moods, job satisfaction, performance and relationships with colleagues and other employees.
Here at KR, we’ll be hosting a Mental Health in the Workplace Seminar on 18 of February in Durban and on 5 March in Cape Town.

This unique and timely seminar will serve as an important platform for the exchange of new ideas, best practice examples and insights on identifying and managing a range of mental health issues in the workplace. The programme is designed to assist organisations in reducing stigma and bias on mental health as well as unpack strategies for implementation in the workplace.

You can learn more about these events by clicking here: Durban | Cape Town or alternatively by contacting Busie Mjimba on +2711 706 6009 or


Barnes, C. M. (2018, September-October). Sleep Well, Lead Better. Harvard Business Review, pp. 140-143.
Baska, M. (2019, August 13). Employees still scared to open up about mental health.





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