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Half of employees feel they cannot be honest about mental health absence

Benenden Health

Only half of UK adults would be honest about taking time off work for poor mental health, according to new research*.

As many as 50% of workers revealed that they would not be honest about the genuine reason for their absence, with three in ten (29%) admitting to covering up absences by telling their employer they had a physical health problem and a quarter (24%) even took time off as annual leave to avoid any awkward questions.

The research, which asked employees to consider the impact of their mental health throughout their working life, rather than solely during the COVID-19 pandemic, also revealed that as many as a third (35%) of UK employees took time off work due to poor mental health last year, with workers absent for between two and five days on average, costing UK businesses an estimated 4o million individual days of work.

Benenden Health, which has launched a new whitepaper looking at the impact of poor mental health on the UK workforce, is encouraging employers to talk with their employees and encourage them to speak about pressures they may be facing.

The views of UK employers were also sought, and they agreed there is a stigma around discussing mental wellbeing at work, with almost three quarters (71%) acknowledging this, whilst a quarter (24%) said they don’t know how to identify if an employee is struggling with their mental wellbeing and only 76% said they would be comfortable talking to them about it.

Men were revealed to be more likely to take time off due to mental health issues (37%) than women (32%), as were younger employees, with almost half of 18-24 year olds (48%) doing so, compared to just a quarter (27%) of workers aged 55 or above.

Male employees who had taken time off for their mental wellbeing were also more likely to cover up the reasons for their absence by taking annual leave (28%) compared to women (19%), and almost half of employees (46%) said their job had become more stressful in the past two years. Almost six in ten (58%) said their mental wellbeing has deteriorated as a result of their professional life, whilst only half (47%) of employees said they feel comfortable discussing their mental wellbeing at work, with a third (30%) believing there to be a stigma around doing so.

The main reasons for employees’ reticence to discuss their mental wellbeing in the workplace included thinking people won’t believe they can do their job effectively (33%), worrying people will treat them differently (27%), being concerned that people will talk about them (26%) and worrying that it will impact on their career progression (23%).

Bob Andrews, CEO at Benenden Health, said: “It comes as no great surprise to see that poor mental wellbeing is having such a significant impact on employees and businesses across the UK, even before the pandemic hit.

“There continues to be a stigma around discussing our mental wellbeing and this is often more prevalent in the workplace than anywhere else. Unfortunately, businesses are too often unable to identify wellbeing issues, employees still feel like they can’t discuss them and there remains a lack of tangible support, all of which contribute to lost time and productivity for businesses as well as unaddressed poor employee wellbeing.

“The only way to tackle this is for businesses to prove to their employees that they genuinely care about their wellbeing, foster a culture of openness and provide the necessary internal and external support. By doing this, employers will be rewarded with fewer lost hours, a happier and more productive workforce and a workplace that is attractive to both current and prospective employees.”

*Benenden Health

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