A third of employees admit to having struggled on with work despite experiencing issues with their mental health, according to a study published on so-called ‘Blue Monday’.
The poll of 2,000 people for employee wellbeing and performance company GoodShape found more than half (55%) of workers felt worried to call in sick with mental health problems, suggesting there is still often a stigma attached to mental ill health.
This compared with less than a third (30%) who said they had the same reluctance about reporting a physical illness. In the past year in fact only 8% of employees took sickness absence because of a mental health condition, the study found.
What this suggested, GoodShape argued, is a persistent, and possibly even growing, culture of ‘presenteeism’ within the workplace, especially with more workers either working remotely or to a hybrid home/office working week.
This means employees are at greater risk of missing out on the support they need during episodes of poor mental health, the provider has said.
The sectors worst affected by this presenteeism were medical and health services plus education, with half (50%) of employees in these sectors reporting that they continued to work through mental health problems. Next was media and marketing, where 44% of workers admitted to being affected.
The legal sector had the highest proportion of employees worried to report mental health-related absence from work (69%), followed by education (64%), and transportation and distribution (58%).
Women were more worried than men to report mental ill health-related absence (60% of women versus 50% of men), and younger employees also more worried (67% of under-35s versus 46% of over-55s).
Overwhelmingly, employees believed their managers’ top concern about any absence was the amount of time they would need to be off work (64%).
Maintaining confidentiality was among employees’ top priorities when having to call in sick, with 67% agreeing they would value such support from their employer.
Moreover, despite UK organisations boasting more than half a million trained mental health first aiders (MHFAs), a quarter of employees said they had little or no understanding of such support, and 16% had never even heard of a mental health first aider.
When asked to rank who they would be most comfortable speaking with if they were suffering from a mental health condition at work, only 11% of employees placed “a work colleague who is a mental health first aider” first.
This is compared to more than half (55%) of employees who said they’d be most comfortable speaking with an independent mental health specialist.
“Some may be tempted to dismiss episodes of poor mental health as merely ‘the blues’”, said Alun Baker, chief executive of GoodShape.
“In reality though, one in four of us experience mental health problems each year, and unless those issues are acknowledged and people get appropriate support early, common problems can escalate into something much more serious.
“Presenteeism is a false economy for employers. By being more proactive about understanding employee wellbeing, and removing barriers so employees can be open about their health challenges, leaders can make targeted changes for measurable improvement down the line. It makes sense, not only for the health of our employees but our businesses too,” he added.