Wellbeing & Benefits

One in five (19%) employees – equivalent to 6.2 million people – went into work while feeling mentally unwell in 2018, rising to a quarter (24%) of respondents aged 18-39, according to new research from Canada Life Group Insurance.

There is a generational divide as younger employees are the most likely to come into work when mentally unwell.

Mental health presenteeism is a persistent problem in UK workplaces and employee perceptions about mental illness have worsened in the last year. One in five (21%) workers say they are more embarrassed to take time off for a mental illness than a physical one, while two in five (40%) say it’s easier to take time off for a physical illness than mental health conditions, a significant increase on 2018 (29%).

Meanwhile, the proportion of workers who believe it’s equally easy to take time off for physical and mental illness has fallen from 25% in 2018 to 18% in 2019.

Workers show sympathy towards health issues

However, the majority of employees show a certain level of understanding when it comes to workplace illnesses. A quarter (25%) are sympathetic towards those taking time off for either a physical or mental illness.

Just 16% say they don’t believe colleagues are really ill when they call in sick, though one in five (21%) get stressed by the additional workload caused by absent staff.

Similarly, only 16% believe their boss and colleagues have less of an understanding of mental health problems than physical ones, indicating that the majority feel their workplace understands mental health issues.

Employee benefits support workplace wellbeing

Employers need to convert this base level of understanding and empathy into a workplace environment that encourages staff who are struggling with their health to take time off. Working while ill means hours are spent doing poor quality work, driving down productivity.

Employee benefits have a role to play, with a wide variety of solutions available to support staff. A third (32%) of employees believe that access to flexible working options would help them take time off for either a physical or mental illness. Flexible working hours are a relatively easy solution for many employers to put in place and can help to manage many health conditions.

Meanwhile, a quarter of staff believe that creating a positive attitude to health and wellbeing or ensuring there is less pressure to be ‘always on’ (both 24%) would help. A good company culture is vital to ensuring employees’ stress levels are managed and they feel supported if they need to take time off for mental illness.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director, Canada Life Group Insurance: “Misconceptions and stigma about mental health in the workplace are hard to uproot. Yet, employees should not feel concerned or embarrassed for taking time off for a mental illness. Forcing themselves to carry on working without support could make things worse and result in an extended leave of absence, which is detrimental for both staff and employers.

“To alleviate workers’ fears, employers should ensure they have the necessary support structures in place and communicate these effectively. Crucially, mental health must be treated with the same degree of understanding and respect as physical health issues.

“Employee Assistance Programmes – a free support service provided with most Group Income Protection policies – offer a range of services to help employees tackle mental health issues and other concerns, and enable a quicker return to work.”

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