Brits are struggling to feel they can open up at work about sensitive issues, as over half (51%) don’t feel comfortable doing so, new research1 by workplace wellbeing platform Unmind2 reveals.

Personal finance is the biggest taboo in the workplace, with over a third (37%) saying they feel uncomfortable discussing this, followed by grief (25%) and women’s health topics (23%).

Brits are twice as likely to feel uncomfortable discussing mental health in the workplace than physical health; one in five (21%) say they feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health, compared to one in ten (11%) for physical health.

Workplace stigma is still a prevalent barrier for employees when deciding whether to open up. Over one in three (36%) said they fear facing judgement, whilst one in four (24%) fear that it could impact their career progression.

This is despite over two-thirds (68%) of Brits saying it was important to them to be able to open up about these topics in the workplace. Almost half (44%) said they would look to leave their current place of employment if it was unable to handle sensitive topics appropriately.

A clear lack of trusted avenues to discuss sensitive topics emerged from the research, as one in five (18%) said there is no one in their workplace they would feel comfortable opening up to about personal challenges.

Currently, employees are most likely to turn to their workplace peers when they need support with over half (51%) opting to do so, compared to line managers (29%) or Human Resources (18%).

However, this is a clear direction that employers need to improve provisions and empower their people to feel confident in speaking up about personal issues. Nearly one in three employees (29%) said they need a well-trained designated point of contact, such as a formalised wellbeing champions network, to handle issues appropriately.

Wellbeing champions receive in-depth training on mental health in the workplace and take responsibility for promoting positive mental wellbeing within their own company. Having this network increases the support available by opening new channels of communication, ensuring employees can seek help from trusted colleagues. Simultaneously, the training increases the number of employees confident in discussing sensitive topics, reducing wider workplace stigma.

The research also uncovered a difference in generational attitudes towards the workplace: four in five (80%) of employees under 34 said it was important they could open up about personal problems at work, whilst just over half (53%) of those aged over 55 felt the same way. Additionally, two thirds (65%) of employees under 34 said they would likely leave their employer if they failed to handle difficult conversations appropriately compared to less than one in four (23%) of those aged over 55.

Steve Peralta, Chief Wellbeing Officer at Unmind commented “Providing avenues for people to be open about their physical and mental health helps with employee engagement, productivity, retention and impacts the bottom line.

“When done correctly, peer-to-peer programmes like wellbeing champions help tackle stigma, better promote existing wellbeing resources, and drive grassroots cultural change. This is why at Unmind we’ve created a free, science-backed course you can take to become a champion, and a free toolkit if you want to build a network of champions at your company.”

“As this continues to be a particular focus for millennials and Gen Z, providing wellbeing services and support is a business-critical consideration for any leader who wants to drive high performance. Put simply, good employee wellbeing is good business.”

Sam Blevins, Partner & Health and Wellbeing Development Manager at John Lewis Partners
“Wellbeing champions are the jewels in the crown of our wellbeing strategy. We call them our “hawks” – because they’re our eyes and ears on the ground.

“There are groups of wellbeing champions in our different business units across the country, so we can deliver something centrally from head office, but tailored by our champions dependent on where you’re based, what you’re doing, and what’s happening. We make things available so our champions can decide when to activate them. We essentially enable them.

“For instance, it might not be the right time for them to talk about a certain aspect of health and wellbeing – but they might want to in a few weeks. So it’s about thinking holistically, making initiatives personal, and helping our areas interact with their local communities. What’s happening in the local area? Someone in head office might not have those details. So it’s really important we keep close contact with our wellbeing champions to gain that understanding.

“They’re a great bunch, and we’ve got nearly 1,500 across the business – they’re a real active part of our strategy.”