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Mental health: How can we end the workplace taboo?

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One of the biggest barriers to managing mental health problems in the workplace is the reluctance of staff to raise concerns. Kathryn Austin, chief people officer at Pizza Hut Restaurants, outlines what the business is doing to tackle the stigma.

Too often, people are scared to open up to their colleagues or managers when suffering emotional or mental health difficulties at work because they are worried about the reaction they will receive. 

We conducted research in the hospitality industry, for example, which found that only 7% of workers felt comfortable discussing their mental health with their employer, and over half of these respondents (56%) said they received adverse treatment as a result of raising concerns. 

Taking positive steps to help employees

We want this to change, which is why we’ve launched a new partnership with Mental Health UK – a network of four national charities working across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to improve the lives of people with mental illness. Our aim is to better understand the positive steps we can take to support our employees.

As a first step, businesses need to send a clear signal to staff that mental health is an issue they take seriously and being open about it will lead to support, not discrimination. By creating a culture of openness, employers can encourage staff to raise issues and concerns early so that the right support can be provided before they develop into something more serious. Raising awareness about different mental illnesses and the related symptoms could also help employees to identify when they or a colleague might be suffering from a mental illness. Worryingly, our research found that a third of workers exhibit mental health problems without even realising.

Providing accessible online channels

It’s also important for those of us working in HR to identify what support channels can be provided. Our research found that the main channel employees would like to see introduced to help deal with mental health problems is online support. Online channels can be particularly effective because they ensure confidentiality and employees can use them in their own time. This makes staff feel much more comfortable and more likely to make use of them as a result. As part of our partnership with Mental Health UK, we are keen to make support services more accessible to employees so that they are able to reach out in confidence. Through our dedicated helpline, employees will be able to access emotional support 24 hours a day. 

Training can also play a crucial role in helping to equip employees with the necessary skills to address mental health. Over three quarters of respondents said they would be interested in receiving training to support colleagues experiencing mental health. As a business we already take a holistic approach to training which not only teaches people the skills they need to do their jobs, but also supports behavioural and emotional development too. Through our partnerships with School of Life and Heartstyles our employees are able to tackle issues including anxiety, communication, stress and relationships. Encouraging natural conversations around mental health is an important step to removing the stigma that surrounds mental health.

Stop the taboo around mental health

At Pizza Hut Restaurants, we know we have a responsibility to support and protect all the people who touch our business – whether that’s our employees or our guests. That’s why we want to take a leading role when it comes to raising awareness about mental health problems in the workplace. But we know breaking the taboo about mental health can’t be tackled by one business alone, so that’s why we want other businesses to do the same. If we break down the barriers to communication together, hopefully we can remove the taboo surrounding mental health indefinitely. 


Kathryn  Austin

By Kathryn Austin

Kathryn is the chief people & marketing officer at Pizza Hut Restaurants UK

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