Telling the boss? It’s not a mental (health) idea

  9th May 2019       Claire Bond
 Accounting & Finance, Engineering, Science & Space, Employment, Executive Search, Human Resources, IT & Software Solutions, Office & Commercial

With one in four people in the UK experiencing mental health issues at some point, it comes as no surprise that Mental Health Awareness Week (13th to 19th May 2019) will resonate with many. It may even give you the confidence to talk to your employer about your own mental health.

Although you may feel frightened to broach the subject, poor mental health is classed as a disability in the same way as a physical condition and falls under the Equality Act 2010. There is protection in place and protocol for your employers to follow should you divulge any problems.

If you think your mental health is suffering

You may have started your job fully fit and in the best frame of mind but mental health issues can happen to anyone at any time, due to career or circumstantial changes. Anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder are some of the most common issues and these can be exacerbated in the workplace. Pressure to perform and meet targets, increasing workloads and hours, and poor management can all aggravate existing mental health problems or even create new ones.

The Mental Health Foundation has gathered together statistics that indicate you’re not alone if you’re suffering:

  • 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace (7%)
  • Women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men (8% vs 10.9%)
  • Evidence suggests that 7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions

The good news is that employers are more aware of mental health in the workplace than ever before and will have a system or support in place to help.

Your employer MUST take action

Your issues should not be ignored or dismissed. In fact, companies have a legal responsibility to help employees who are suffering as a result of their workplace or workload. Your employer will be obliged to assess your mental health issues to ascertain if the risk lies within your job. If a risk is identified, they must take steps to remove the risk or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable.

Remember, even if your mental health issues are pre-existing or are not triggered by your job, your employer may have legal requirements to make reasonable adjustments under the equalities legislation.

Telling your employer that you’re having problems

It’s a matter of choice about how much detail you give about your situation. Although you might want to hide behind an email – and it is a good first step in raising the topic – having a private face-to-face meeting with your line manager will give them a true understanding of what’s going on and what adjustments they can make to help your situation.

If this feels too daunting, approach your HR department or tell your mentor, if you have one. It may help to plan what you’re going to say and have a list of suggested changes that your employer can make – maybe tweaking your working hours or arranging cover so you can attend medical appointments. If you’re stuck on how to broach the subject, Mind has a draft letter you can use or customise, together with specialist advice.

I’m going for an interview, when do I tell them about my mental health issues?

People with mental health issues make great employees and it’s only natural for these people to change jobs and re-enter the application process. In most cases, an employer must not ask about your health until they have offered you a job, so it should not come up during an interview.

If you are successful in your application and want the protection of the Equality Act, however, it’s sensible to disclose any mental health issues to a HR manager before you start (they don’t have to let your supervisor or colleagues know). As well as affording you protection, should the offer subsequently be withdrawn, disclosure gives your employer the chance to make advanced adjustments that will make your working life easier.

As a last resort

If you are an employee who has disclosed mental health issues, and you don’t think your employer has made reasonable adjustments to offer you support, you can take your employer to an employment tribunal. More information can be found on the Mind website.

Claire Bond


Claire has almost 25 years Recruitment experience. A specialist in the regional recruitment marketplace, Claire has extensive local knowledge and holds a reputation for quality, integrity, honesty and excellent matching. Heading up the HR and Office & Commercial Divisions of Bond Williams. Claire is responsible for the overall growth and …

Keep in touch