How to talk about physical & mental health at work
The stigma around mental health at work
If you’re worried about people at work finding out about your health issue or a condition you have, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, over a third of us (36%) have lied to employers about taking time off work for health-related appointments, and over two fifths (41%) say that we wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing any health issue at all with our managers.
The most common health problem hidden from employers are mental health issues, due to mental health stigma in the workplace. But many physical health issues are kept under wraps too, including high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, chronic fatigue, and loss of hearing.
Disclosing mental or physical health to your employer
Some people feel that disclosing their health issues at work is unnecessary, or that it’s none of their employer’s business. But for many who need further support, it’s the stigma around health issues that stops us from being honest.
Our recent employer health survey revealed:
3 in 10 worry their team members would think they can't do their job
27% worry they would lose their job
A fifth worry their team would think they were weak
20% worry their team would talk about them
15% worry that it would impact their performance review
Do you have to disclose a mental illness to your employer?
In short, the answer is no. The Equality Act 2010 states that there is no legal obligation to disclose a health condition to your employer, whether you’re an employee or a potential job candidate. This law was passed to help protect jobseekers from discrimination.
And given that some health issues, like mental illness, can be difficult to talk about with anybody – it’s understandable if you decide not to do this with your employer.
Why being honest with your employer could help you
If your health issue or condition is impacting your work or your daily life, you may benefit from further support. Opening up to your employer means that they’ll be in a better position to help.
With the right support in place, many health conditions can be managed well – meaning they’ll have less impact on your work and wellbeing. And, if you’ve been keeping your health issue concealed for a while, discussing it with somebody you trust at work may feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Experiencing health issues can be worrying enough, without the added stress of trying to hide them, or needing to lie about the reason you’re taking time off.
How to talk to your boss about physical or mental health
Pick the right time: taking your manager aside whilst they’re rushed off their feet between meetings is unlikely to be effective. Set some time aside in their diary, and make sure you’re both prepared for the conversation. If the time is allocated, you’re less likely to be interrupted, feel rushed, or catch your employer by surprise.
Consider speaking face-to-face if you can: it’s easy to send a quick email or message, especially when the conversation feels uncomfortable. However, a face-to-face conversation is more personal and is likely to be more productive. You can always follow up with an email afterwards too. If meeting in person isn’t possible, consider a video call – just make sure you have the time and privacy you need.
Consider what you’re asking for: being prepared will most likely result in a more effective conversation. If it’s support that you’re after, suggest ideas that would help you – and how they may help your work.
Talk to your manager about things that help you outside of work: if you’re suffering with arthritic pains or stomach cramps, or hot sweats from the menopause, what would you do at home to feel more comfortable? Are there ways this can be incorporated into your work routine?
Emphasise how your wellbeing impacts your work: rather than being judged for not doing your job properly, it’s likely your employer will appreciate the fact that you’re proactively looking after your health – and showing commitment to your work and their company.
Be patient: your manager might not have all the answers themselves. They may need to involve HR, seek external support, or take time to research and understand your condition themselves. Putting the right healthcare support in place might take time, and if it doesn’t happen overnight, it doesn’t mean your employer doesn’t care. Consider some short-term steps in the meantime that might help – like flexible working hours, some extra time off or spending more time working remotely. You could even explore additional health services. With Benenden Health, members have access to a 24/7 GP line and a 24/7 Mental Health line, as well as Vita Health classes for physical and mental health.