A Fifth Of Employees Carry On Working Despite Mental Illness

In Business, Employee Benefits, Mental Health by Stephen Ellis

New research shows that a significant number of employees have gone into work despite feeling ‘mentally unwell’ and that a generational divide exists when it comes to who is most likely to do this.

According to research by Canada Life Group Insurance, one in five (19%) employees – equivalent to around 6.2 million people – went to work while feeling mentally unwell in 2018. This figure rises to a quarter (24%) for respondents aged 18-39, highlighting how younger employees are less likely to take time off when they feel mentally unwell.

As well as showing how mental health presenteeism is a persistent problem in UK workplaces, the research also reveals how employee perceptions of mental health have also worsened in the last 12 months.

Indeed, one in five (21%) workers admitted they are more embarrassed to take time off because of a mental illness than a physical one. Meanwhile, two in five (40%) say it’s actually easier to take time off for a physical illness than a mental one – a significant increase on the 29% of respondents who said the same in 2018.

Furthermore, the number of people who say it is equally easy to take time off for a physical illness as a mental one has fallen from 25% in 2018 to 18% in 2019.

Workers are sympathetic towards health issues

However, despite many workers viewing mental health issues in a negative light when it comes to taking time off for them, the majority of employees are sympathetic towards workplace illnesses. For example, a quarter (25%) said they are sympathetic towards colleagues who have to take time off because of a physical or mental illness.

When asked if they think colleagues have time off when they’re not really sick, just 16% say they agreed, though one in five (21%) did admit to getting stressed by the additional workload caused when someone is away due to sickness.

Similarly, only 16% of respondents said they believe their boss and colleagues have less of an understanding of mental health problems than physical ones, which suggests the majority of employees feel their workplace adequately understands mental health issues.

Employee benefits can help support mental health

The Canada Life research also highlights that employee benefits and perks have a key role to play in all this, with a third (32%) of employees saying access to flexible working options, such as having the ability to change schedules, would help them take time off for either a physical or mental illness.

Meanwhile, a quarter of staff believe ensuring there is less pressure to be ‘always on’ and creating a positive attitude to health and wellbeing would also help.

This tells us what we may already know, but perhaps are reluctant to admit! Mental health is looked at differently to physical ailments when it comes to absence.

Take a moment to think about this: if we are mentally strained, do we feel physically strong and vice versa? Therefore, the approach of dealing with symptoms may be missing a trick and we should start looking at the whole person and their situation more.

Stephen joined Premier Choice in 2006 as a Group Risk consultant and became Head of Group Risk in June 2013. In December 2017, Stephen also took over responsibility for the Protection division within Premier Choice and works to grow this in the same way he has the Group Risk division. Protection is a specialist area and fits well with his experience and expertise in the group risk market.