Two thirds of senior business managers in the retail sector don’t believe depression warrants time off work

Two thirds (65 per cent) of senior business managers and owners in the retail sector don’t believe that suffering from depression is a serious enough reason for employees to be off work, according to new research* from AXA PPP healthcare. The research, highlighting feelings towards mental ill health in the UK’s retail sector, also revealed 74 per cent of senior managers don’t consider anxiety a serious enough reason for absence and 64 per cent don’t think stress to be a serious enough reason for an employee’s absence.

 When asked how they would react if an employee in their business was suffering from a mental health issue, nearly one in five (18 per cent) said they would worry about the employee’s capability to do their job and 21 per cent said they would worry about the consequences for themselves personally, such as it reflecting poorly on their management style or having to pick up additional work. This is despite 15 per cent of the senior managers polled acknowledging that they have experienced a mental health problem themselves – compared with almost one in three (30 per cent) of the other employees surveyed.

When asked if they would be honest with their line manager when calling in sick because they were suffering from depression, only 38 per cent of retail employees said they would tell the truth. Thirty-four per cent said they would be open with their line manager if anxiety was the cause of their absence, with forty-four per cent saying they would tell their line manager if stress was the reason for their absence.

Of those who’d avoid telling the truth about their absence, one in four (25 per cent) said they were afraid they would not be believed, 18 per cent were afraid of being judged and 20 per cent preferred to keep their health issues private. Seven per cent said they feared their line manager’s reaction to being told the truth.

Overall, there was considerable scepticism about the seriousness of commitment by retail employers to dealing with mental ill health at work. Forty-five per cent of employees surveyed thought their employer didn’t take mental health issues seriously. And just 13 per cent of bosses thought the retail industry was affected by mental ill health and was doing enough to address it.

Despite this, almost three out of five senior managers surveyed (60 per cent) thought that attitudes towards mental ill health in the workplace have changed for the better in the past fifteen years, compared with 28 per cent who said that they had not seen any change.

Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP healthcare, says:

“Stress and mental health issues affect one in four people on average in any given year. With this rate of occurrence, we need to work harder to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental ill health. Senior management is well placed to lead the way to changing harmful prejudice by giving their employees the necessary tools and support to enable them to discuss mental health in an open and unbiased way.

“Lack of understanding breeds fear so improving employees’ awareness and understanding of mental illness is one of the most important things that senior management teams can do and a critical first step is to challenge the stigma surrounding mental ill health.

“Employers can begin by introducing a number of small but important changes such as promoting an open and honest culture where the facts about mental ill health are freely communicated and discussed. I have seen that senior managers who have been open and felt able to share their own experiences of mental health challenges and worries have often succeeded in developing an environment that is more accepting. Training and supporting managers to deal with employees affected by mental ill health (including letting them know what employee assistance programmes are available) will also help to give them the confidence to provide effective support where and when it is needed.”