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Disclosure, Individuals and Flexibility: Reflections on this week’s HeadReading.

This week I’ve been doing some reading. Rather than devouring a recent Mills & Boon (the gloriously trashy Married for the Sheik’s Duty) or pretending to read Das Kapital, I’ve plumped for ‘Managing and supporting health at work: disclosure tools for managers’, a resource published by Mind and available for free online. It’s a great resource, and hugely valuable for any employee regardless of their position within an organisation. This week I want to think a little about what it means disclose in the workplace, and how different each individual’s experience of health is.

Disclosure of issues relating to your health is, and always should be, your choice. Keeping this in mind means we have to approach statistics about disclosure with a degree of nuance. The report Added Value: Mental Health, compiled by the Mental Health Foundation and Unum, recently found that 58% of respondents who had had a mental health problem in the past five years had chosen to disclose this with their employer.

The reasons why 42% of these people did not wish to disclose this information to their employer are complex. Whilst this reluctance in no small part is due to a fear of stigma, demotion or even redundancy (1), there are still a significant portion who, for reasons unrelated to their employer, do not wish to disclose this information. I fall into this category myself. I do not wish to formally disclose details of my obsessive compulsive disorder to my employer, and it isn’t because I don’t trust them, or fear stigma, but it is because over years of therapy I’ve developed a support system unique to me and how I experience the world. I’m sort of already covered, and happy with the cover I’ve got.

So what does this mean for management? If someone is experiencing an issue with their health, but do not wish to disclose it to their employer, what should a line manager do, if anything at all?

Treat people as individuals. Don’t go looking for disclosure, or information, or become too focused on signs. Go looking for a better relationship with your employees, one based on dialogue. Remember that each and every person experiences their health differently. For example, looking through the aforementioned report by Mind, below are some signs of mental ill-health in the workplace:

– illogical or irrational thought processes
– intense or obsessive activity
– working far longer hours
– repetitive speech or activity
– difficulty relaxing

Now these might be signs of mental ill-health in 90% of cases, but in my case, these are part and parcel of the condition I have, a condition which is ongoing, and which I don’t consider to be an ‘illness’ despite its ability to make me feel ‘ill’ from time to time. In short, if I was displaying these behaviours, it wouldn’t really be indicative of anything, it would be just another day at the office. My parameters for what is illness and what is wellness are unique to me. These sorts of check-lists are a helpful guide, but that’s all they are, a suggestion, they are not a Google map.

Flexibility is your best bet.

Ask yourself.

How can you be flexible to the needs of your employees, not only in the event that they disclose information about their mental health, but in order to anticipate their needs regardless?

How can you be an employer that accommodates, communicates and works with individuals?

 

 

  1. In 2011, Mind found that 20% of workers would not disclose stress or mental health issues to their manager for fear of being placed first in line for redundancy.

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