Employees who feel able to speak openly about their depression with their managers are more productive at work than those whose bosses avoid talking to them about their condition, according to a study.
People with depression were also found to take more days off work if their managers did not offer them support, researchers from the London School of Economics found.
Mental health problems are estimated to have cost the UK economy almost £35bn in 2016. Previous research suggested more than 70% of mentally ill people actively conceal their condition from others, with most doing so because they feared discrimination when looking for or staying in a job.
For the study, published in BMJ Open on Monday, LSE researchers looked at depression in the workplace in 15 different countries, including the UK, questioning about 1,000 managers and employees.
They found reactions by managers were at least as important as the country’s financial resources when it came to both productivity and absenteeism.
The report’s co-author, Dr Sara Evans-Lacko, said: “Our research shows that where employers create a culture of avoidance around talking about depression, employees themselves end up avoiding work and even when they return to work they are not as productive as they could be.”
People living in Mexico were most likely to report that their manager had offered to help with their depression (67%). They were least likely to in Japan, where only 16% of those questioned said their managers had offered proactive support. In Britain, the figure was 53%.
People living in South Korea (30%) and China (27%) were most likely to say their manager had avoided talking about their depression. Denmark had the most supportive managers, with only 2% of respondents saying their manager had avoided the issue. In the UK the figure was only marginally higher at 3%.
Living in a country where a large proportion of managers said they avoided talking to the employee about the condition was associated with employees taking an additional 4.1 days off during an episode of depression.
Evans-Lacko said: “More training and better workplace policies could help managers to recognise symptoms sooner and provide support – helping the individual and reducing the cost to employers at the same time.”
Emma Mamo, the head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, said the findings chimed with the charity’s annual workplace wellbeing index and data published in 2017 by Business in the Community, which found that 15% of people faced disciplinary action, demotion or even dismissal as a result of telling their employer about a mental health problem.
She said: “We want employers to create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about these issues, and know that if they do, they’ll be met with support and understanding, not stigma or discrimination …
“Smart employers recognise the value of attracting a diverse workforce, including those who are currently living with, or have previously experienced, a mental health problem.”
Other countries included in the study were South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Canada, America, France, Italy and Germany.
• In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.