United Kingdom

Managers don't believe stress warrants time off

April 2015


Poor mental health, such as stress, anxiety and depression does not warrant time off work, say seven in ten UK employers.

The AXA PPP Healthcare research into corporate attitudes towards employee wellbeing and mental illness follows the aftermath of the Germanwings crash, which saw co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crash the Airbus A320, causing 150 fatalities.

A subsequent investigation into the crash revealed that Lubitz had been suffering with severe depression which he had been hiding from his employers. It prompted a surge of media stories around the issue of mental health in the workplace and whether UK employees were given enough support from their employer.

Surveying over 1,000 staff in executive roles as well as a further 1,000 employees, the AXA PPP Healthcare research revealed that 69 per cent of those in senior management believed that mental illness was not a good enough reason for absence. Interestingly, a quarter of the management-level respondents admitted suffering from poor mental health at some point in their lives.

Matthew Lawrence, Head of Broking and Proposition for Health and Risk at Aon Employee Benefits said: “It’s a concerning statistic, although not necessarily a surprising one. Employers need to focus on both the physical and mental health of their employees. Employees with good health and wellbeing are more likely to be engaged in their jobs which ultimately will increase retention and productivity levels.”

The research also asked employees if they would disclose their mental health issues to their boss when calling in sick – just 39 per cent said they would tell the truth. When asked about the reasons why they would hesitate to reveal the real reason behind their absence:

  • 15 per cent were afraid of not being taken seriously
  • 23 per cent were afraid of being judged
  • A further 23 per cent saw their mental health issues as private
  • 7 per cent feared their line manager’s reaction

In addition, half of the employees polled said mental health issues were not taken seriously by their employer.

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind described the findings as ‘hugely worrying’.

“There is still a taboo around talking about issues like stress, anxiety and depression at work,” she said. “[but] not only is looking after staff the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense, resulting in increased productivity, morale and retention."

Lawrence added: “Until business and key areas of society act to help remove the stigma around mental illness, real progress is unlikely to be achieved. There are however, plenty of organisations who do a lot of really positive work around mental wellbeing, whether it’s through preventative measures, understanding the causes of poor mental health or putting in supportive programmes to help staff suffering from stress, depression and anxiety. It’s these organisations who should be held up as examples of good practice in the field.”



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