Only 12 per cent of manufacturing employees would share a mental health problem with their employers

New research by Benenden has revealed the extent to which mental health remains a taboo subject in the workplace, with only one employee in 10 (12 per cent) working in the manufacturing sector admitting they would confide in their employer if they suffered with an illness.

With a half of employees (54 per cent) feeling that their job had become more stressful over the last five years, a third said they had suffered from stress (34 per cent) while two in five had experienced sleep problems. Just five in 100 employees working in the manufacturing sector revealed they had sought help from their employer to help cope with stress.

The research from Benenden, which is presented in a new Mental Health Report published today, revealed that two in five workers blame an increased workload (41 per cent) for mental health-related illnesses, while a fifth (20 per cent) said financial concerns were the main cause.

Despite wider awareness of the implications of mental health illnesses, more than half (54 per cent) of people working in the manufacturing sector said they were unaware of their employer having an official mental health policy. And just a quarter (26 per cent) said the company they worked for regularly engaged with them regarding mental health.

When it comes to disclosing mental health issues, those working in the manufacturing sector do differ to their counterparts in other industries. When asked who they would turn to if they suffered from a mental health issue, a quarter said they would turn to their human resources team – compared to just one in 10 when you look at the national workforce.

However, mental health clearly remains a taboo subject, with one in four (25 per cent) revealing they would never consult an employee if they suffered from a mental health issue. This was echoed by one employee working in the food manufacturing sector who said: "Many suffering from mental health issues simply soldier on, thinking that their employer can't do anything that will make a difference anyway, and suffer in silence."

What more can employers do?

A half (53 per cent) of employees said that they wanted their employer to provide help and support. And with a third (33 per cent) wanting to discuss concerns directly with their line managers, almost eight in 10 (77 per cent) said businesses should provide mental health awareness training to those responsible for managing.

A further two in three workers (66 per cent) revealed that they would use a confidential helpline if they were experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, highlighting that there is still a fear of openly discussing illnesses with employers.

Alarm bells for employers

Highlighting the impact that a poor mental health policy can have on manufacturers, almost a half of employees (49 per cent) revealed that they would seek alternative employment if their employer didn't provide support in relation to mental health conditions.

Absence from mental health illnesses is less than the national average, with employees taking an average of five days, compared to the eight day national average. However, it remains a major concern for businesses, costing the economy an estimated £18bn every year according to the Centre of Economic and Business Research. Today's research, reveals that the majority (63 per cent) of manufacturing employees suffering from a mental health-related illness take between two and five days leave, with one in 10 (13 per cent) taking more than 10 days.

Helen Smith, Head of Wellbeing Strategy at Benenden, commented: "A lot of work has been done to lift the stigma attached to mental health, but clearly employees still feel reticent about talking about illnesses in the workplace. Fear of what might happen is one reason, but the major concern is the number of businesses that have no clear support system in place to help staff overcome their illnesses.

"It is important for employers to start creating a culture of openness that enables employees to talk about their about mental health. Training is a necessity for all those who manage people and tools that provide valuable advice and support, such as helplines and counselling, are hugely beneficial.

"Mental health is not a myth, it is a real life problem that affects almost everyone. It is time for companies of all sizes to make it an essential part of their long term human resources strategy. If no action is taken it is not just the employee that will suffer, businesses around the country will be impacted by rising absence and a disengaged workforce."

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