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Staff fear redundancy if they admit to feeling stressed at work

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Workers who admit to feeling stressed or depressed fear being sacked or forced out of their jobs, according to a report published this morning.

Research of 2,000 employees for mental health charity Mind's Taking care of business campaign found work is the most stressful thing in people's lives, but one in five people believe if they mentioned their stress levels they would be put first in line for redundancy.

The charity also found that workers' fears weren't unfounded, with 22% of those who had disclosed a mental health problem in a previous job saying they had been fired or forced to quit. Mind's survey found 41% are currently stressed or very stressed in their jobs - making it more stressful than money worries, marriage and relationships or health issues, two thirds had been put under more pressure by management since the downturn and a third feel stressed by a reduction to budgets in their workplace.

Almost half (48%) are scared to take time off sick, 28% are stressed by the threat of redundancy, rising to 41% for public sector and 70% claim their boss would not help them with stress issues.

Mind also revealed 41% of employees said stress is a 'taboo' topic, 46% said time off for stress was seen as an 'excuse' for something else and a quarter said they would be deemed less capable than others if they admitted to feeling stressed.

Of those who had disclosed a mental health problem to their boss in a previous role, 22% had been sacked or forced out of their jobs

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: "The negativity that persists around stress and mental health problems is unacceptable in a modern workforce. Pressure and stress may be part of our working lives, but failing to recognise that everyone has a limit is a mistake that costs businesses billions of pounds a year. Stigma is so great employees worry that even mentioning stress will lose them their jobs. Mental health problems exist in every workforce, but at the moment it exists as a costly and unaddressed elephant in the room.

"Right now, one in six workers have a mental health issue such as stress, depression or anxiety, and workers are under more pressure than ever before as staff numbers decrease, work increases, and people worry if they'll even have a job to go to tomorrow. Rather than shying away from the issue, it's more important than ever that businesses invest in staff wellbeing and encourage an open culture, where staff can come forward about the pressures they are feeling and be supported.

"Making your workplace more mentally healthy doesn't need to cost the earth. Simple, practical changes can have big results such as making sure your staff take proper breaks or giving them the chance to talk about work pressures. Some businesses are already seeing this approach pay off, reducing sickness absence, cutting costs and being rewarded with a productive and committed workforce. It's time for all employers to change their attitudes towards mental health problems at work."

Mind's Taking care of business campaign aims to transform the way our workplaces address mental health issues. The charity has already won the backing of major businesses such as AXA, BT and Deloitte and is calling on all employers to lift the taboos around mental health at work, and create an open culture where employees can discuss mental health without fear of the consequences.

Commenting on the findings,Cable & Wireless worldwide’s people director Debbie Meech said:"The issue of stress in the workplace highlighted by Mind research is something that should concern any employer and be a key consideration when it comes to allocating resources to support wellbeing in the workplace.

"The recession has been hard on employees and no organisation can say they’re stress-free. Employers need to closely monitor any signs of plummeting wellbeing like an increased absence level or increases in certain types of illness, serious incidents and injuries, an increased usage of an assistance line and occupational health or changes in engagement scores.

"There’s plenty of actions that any organisation can take to help its employees. Health awareness sessions on various topics, on-site nurses for a day, childcare, private medical insurance or an assistance line are just some of the available solutions. At Cable&Wireless Worldwide, we have decided to take a positive approach towards the wellbeing of our colleagues and have recently launched a programme focusing on three key areas: healthy mind, healthy body and healthy lifestyle. We recognise that we’re at the beginning of this journey, but it’s an important issue which can have dramatic consequences as Mind research has highlighted."

AXA PPP psychological support expert Eugene Farrell said: "You don't create a positive workplace culture just by saying so - you have to nurture it by treating your people well, promoting their health and wellbeing and also by being there to support them when things get them down. Helping people to deal with the pressures in their lives is one of the best investments an employer can make." Mind is calling for:

  • Employers to encourage open and supportive work environments, where employees can discuss mental health without fear of discrimination
  • Employers to treat mental health problems with the same importance as physical health problems
  • Employers to ensure protecting mental health is embedded in change management, in order to manage extra pressure on remaining staff
  • Businesses of all sizes to make supporting staff wellbeing a corporate priority
  • Businesses to introduce workplace mental health policies that promote wellbeing for all staff, tackle work-related mental health problems and support staff who are experiencing mental distress.