A fifth of employees attended work while suffering mental health issues last year

work while suffering mental health issues

More than a fifth (22%) of employees went into work when feeling mentally unwell last year, according to research by Canada Life Group Insurance.

The figure, from a survey of 1,001 UK employees carried out in August 2018, shows a rise in mental health presenteeism by 4% since 2016.

Paul Avis, marketing director of Canada Life Group Insurance, said: “Mental health issues can be a vicious cycle for employees, fuelled by persistent presenteeism and the need to be ‘always on’. Employees suffering from mental illness should be focusing on getting better, rather than struggling into the office, as the stress of work is unlikely to lead to an improvement in their overall condition.”

A fifth (21%) of respondents admitted they are more likely to go into work when feeling unwell from a mental health problem rather than a physical illness, while 15% stated that their boss and colleagues would not take them seriously if they took time off for a mental health issue, up from 12% in 2016.

The same proportion (15%) of employees voiced a concern that taking time off for a mental illness would jeopardise their opportunities for progression, up slightly from 13% in 2016. However, the proportion who said they would be more embarrassed to say they were off with a mental health problem than a physical illness decreased to 15%, from 20% in 2016.

Avis said: “Despite a noticeable increase in the acceptance of mental health issues in society, employees are still concerned that their boss and colleagues would not take their mental health issues seriously, or worse, that they are hindering themselves for future opportunities at their company by taking time off for a mental illness.

“Employers must show that they are serious about supporting employees with mental health and stress-related issues. Communicate that it’s fine to take time off to get better and there won’t be any negative impact on their career for doing so.”

Regarding internal processes, three in ten (29%) of respondents said it was easy to take time off for a physical illness at their workplace but not for a mental one. Over a third (35%) of employees were not aware of any form of support offered by their workplace to manage sickness absence, while one in eight (13%) definitely do not have any support options available to them.

Approximately three in 10 (28%) employees said flexible working options would help with both their physical and mental health, while a similar proportion (27%) said a more positive workplace attitude towards health and wellbeing would be beneficial and a fifth (19%) said better workplace support, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs), would help.

Avis said: “EAPs are an invaluable form of support for staff with mental health concerns. Back-to-work rehabilitation programmes also support those who need to take a longer period off work. Having these support services in place provides practical support and reinforces the message that employers are serious about employee health and wellbeing.”