Whether or not to tell your boss you have a mental health condition like depression or anxiety is a personal question. Considering 1 in 5 of us have experienced a mental health condition in the last twelve months, and almost half of us will experience a mental health problem at some time in our life, it shouldn’t be a big deal; but it can feel like one.
In many situations telling your employer may mean you’re better supported to do your job, and it may give confidence to others who are struggling with something similar. That’s not to say you might not be worried about potential discrimination or missing out on a promotion.
Every workplace is different and offers a different level of support. Here are some important things to consider when weighing up your decision.
What you do (and don’t) need to tell work
Like any other health problem, if your mental health condition does not affect your ability to do your job, you’re not legally obliged to tell your employer about it. The same rule applies if you’re going through an interview process.
But keep in mind your workplace health and safety obligations. If your condition is putting you or others at risk, you need to tell someone. For example, if you’re taking certain medications and operating heavy machinery.
If your condition is affecting the standard of your work, it may be a good idea to tell your employer so they can support you. Remember the law is there to protect people from discrimination when they have a health problem or disability.
What work can ask and how they can help
If you tell your employer about your mental health condition, you’re protected by anti-discrimination laws which means your workplace must make reasonable changes to support you to do your job. They also have a legal responsibility to maintain your privacy, and can only use the information for the reasons you gave it to them for.
Employers can ask certain questions about your mental health condition if it’s legitimate, necessary and desirable. An example is if they need to make any adjustments to the workplace to support you.
Weighing up the pros and cons
There can be some benefits to sharing your mental health problem with your employer, or colleagues, even though you’re not legally obliged to do so. Drawing up a list of pros and cons can help you decide. Some examples include:
- Telling your boss could allow you to change your schedule or workload to a more sustainable level, helping you manage your condition better from time-to-time or on an ongoing basis.
- Being upfront could discourage gossip and encourage more people to seek out help for their own problems.
- If your work performance has been suffering, it may help to contextualise things.
- You worry it will change your boss’s and colleagues’ perception or opinion of you.
- You feel your condition could become a scapegoat for poor performance or a subject of gossip, even if it’s under control.
- You feel you don’t require any extra support from your workplace, so why take the risk?
The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance has a pros and cons tool you can use on their website: Heads Up.
How to tell your employer
If you decide to tell your employer, you might be wondering about the best way to go about it. Here are some tips from Medibank’s mental health expert, Colman O’Driscoll.
Setting up the initial meeting
This is an extremely personal decision, so do what works for you. If you’d prefer a sit-down, formal meeting, go for it, but for others a walk around the block might be better.
Decide how you’re going to talk about your condition
You can describe your exact diagnosis such as depression or anxiety or you could be a little more vague. The amount of detail you share is completely up to you.
Decide on your reason for telling them
For example, you might be looking for more flexible working hours or some extended time off. This is also a good time to mention how your mental health problem may or may not be affecting your performance.
Together with your manager and workplace, you can put together a support plan. Your workplace can’t tell anyone about your mental health condition without your OK. They can only use the information for the purpose you gave it to them, such as to adjust your work schedule or responsibilities.
Mental health awareness has come a long way from where it was even a decade ago. Most professional workplaces have a policy that includes mental health as part of sick days, and other policies to help you manage your condition. At the end of the day it’s your health, your decision, and you should always do what’s best for you.
At Medibank, it’s not just your physical health we care about. Your mental health matters, too. If you’re looking for more information on mental health and the health issues that matter most to young people, click here.