United Kingdom

Nearly 6m workers have gone into work feeling mentally unwell

September 2017


The subject of mental health has made news headlines over the last few years, with more and more celebrities sharing their experiences of depression and anxiety.

The Duchess of Cambridge recently launched a charity video with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families', "You're Never Too Young to Talk Mental Health" campaign, in which she encourages young people not to bottle up their feelings but to talk to someone they can trust.

It is clear that feeling mentally unwell affects a rising number of us. According to research by Canada Life Group Insurance, almost 6 million UK employees say they would go into work feeling mentally unwell but not if they were feeling physically unwell.

Writing in HR Director magazine, Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life, said: "mental health issues [are] not deemed as severe as physical ones by a significant minority. Just 20% report they would take time off if they were suffering from a stress-related illness."

The research also found that many employees are worried about colleagues' reaction to taking time off for mental health issues, with many admitting to being "embarrassed" to explain their reason for absence, whilst others were concerned that it might affect their career prospects.

The research highlights how British workers feel management have a poor understanding of mental health issues. Nearly 40% of workers suggested that working flexibly might help them feel more comfortable with taking time off.

Avis continued: "Old stigmas still persist when it comes to mental health in the workplace. People suffering from mental health issues should be focusing on getting better rather than struggling into the office."

Amy Froude, principal at Aon Employee Benefits, says: "The good news is that we are seeing workplace mental health and wellbeing strategy starting to gain momentum. Our recent wellbeing study showed that of those employers who do not have a strategy, more than half are in the process of implementing one in the near future."

Aon is seeing an increase in the awareness of mental health helped by campaigns such as the World Mental Health day. She says: "These positive approaches have seen more individuals and companies signing the Time to Change pledge.

"Setting up a process which aims to improve and imbed ways of managing mental wellbeing will ultimately see an increase in employee engagement and productivity; a win win for all. The difficulty remains that mental health is mostly considered an invisible illness and the onus is often on a manager, most likely a non-medical expert, to understand the appropriate next steps, for both the employee and employer."

Investing time and money to train line managers and employees to deal with mental health issues and employers increasing their general level of mental health literacy will help with stigmas being addressed and allow employees to feel comfortable to have an open conversation. If these processes are implemented then over time we can expect presentism to reduce.



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