Nurturing a workplace environment that encourages open and honest conversations and breaks down the taboos can help employees feel more comfortable – they’ll be more likely to be open about any struggles or hidden conditions to their employers.

A huge 70 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to mental health issues alone – that’s a staggering £2.4bn cost per year*.  Awareness campaigns from organisations like Time to Change, Heads Together, Mind and the Mental Health Foundation have started conversations that break down the taboos around the subject.

However, one area that is not being considered is the impact of hidden conditions in the workplace, like dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism, and the significant effect these can have on employees’ mental health. In fact, BHSF – a not-for-profit health and wellbeing provider, has its own research that shows just how reluctant people are to talk about their mental health to their boss – with just 15% admitting they would feel comfortable to do so**.

BHSF are working with two organisations that support hidden conditions in the workplace, with a view to raising awareness and helping employers to better support employees who suffer from these conditions.

BHSF has just launched a new charity partnership with the Brain & Spine Foundation, which provides information and support to anyone affected by neurological problems. Its support means the charity can now fund an extra nurse to take calls on their helpline.

This nurse can provide dedicated advice and connect individuals to local support groups – all with the aim of having a positive impact on their mental health. Being able to meet up with someone or a group of people who share similar experiences can be the ideal way to express their difficulties and feelings of frustration, giving employees an outlet where they won’t feel alone.

Another surprising statistic is that one in six people in the UK are affected by neurological problems – conditions that affect the nervous system. Because many don’t show outward signs, employers may be oblivious to the challenges they face or the support they need. And that’s no surprise given how employees are reluctant to open up about their conditions.

For employees, sometimes a little goes a long way – simple solutions like adjustments to the working day can have a big difference on their wellbeing. Signposting support is also a great first step in encouraging employees to reach out and seek help.

BHSF has also been working with workplace neurodiversity specialists Lexxic to highlight the impact hidden conditions have on mental resilience in the workplace. Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain processes information – dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and ADHD are just a few examples of neurodiverse conditions. With one in ten in the UK affected by a neurodiverse condition, it’s an issue that is more common in the workforce than many people think, often going under the employer’s radar.

Employers can access Lexxic’s innovative services through BHSF’s new Connect app, ensuring it is easily accessible whenever it is needed. Through its partnerships, BHSF can provide an even more positive impact on the wellbeing of all it reaches.

Nicola James, psychologist and founder of Lexxic, said: “It’s really important to recognise in neurodiversity there are many strengths. Look for the talents of dyslexia like creative thinking, talents in ADHD like sales and talents in autism like coding. Then support these employees with assistive technologies, line manager awareness and coaching to get the best out of them.”
Brian Hall, chief commercial officer at BHSF, said: “We put employee wellbeing at the heart of everything we do. While conversations around mental health in the workplace are taking place, hidden conditions and the way these affect employees’ mental health is not being discussed at all.

“By highlighting this issue, we want to help raise awareness of neurological conditions in the workplace and how they can have a huge effect on employees wellbeing. Working with our partners the Brain & Spine Foundation and Lexxic, we can offer employers practical guidance that can proactively help them to create a supportive environment which allows all employees to thrive.”

On 14 May, BHSF and Lexxic held a seminar in the West Midlands to discuss how companies can improve the resilience of their employees and how hidden conditions can affect a business’ profitability and productivity.

Marc Smith, chief executive of the Brain & Spine Foundation, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with BHSF. BHSF’s support of an extra nurse means we will be able to help even more people with neurological conditions needing our services. From our recent survey we know that people feel more informed, less isolated and more confident talking with a health professional about their condition after contacting our helpline.”
1  Mental Health Foundation website [accessed May 2019]
 BHSF – Hiding in plain sight: Mental health in the workplace, 2018