Why Employees Use Physical Sickness to Hide Mental Health Issues

More Than Half of Employees Would Rather Call in Physical Sickness to Hide Mental Health Issues

Most of us know that we’re living in what can only be described as a mental health crisis at the moment.

From increased working hours, increased living costs and a slow-rising minimum wage, alongside a tricky political climate, it’s no wonder that stress and mental unwellness are at an all-time high.

Whilst there has never been more discussion about mental health than there is today, it still seems that some companies, and managers, need a wakeup call.

A recent poll, conducted by Censuswide and Slater and Gordon, investigated whether there was still stigma surrounding mental health and work.

With campaigns such as Time to Talk and Action For Happiness, you might think that the stigma  is long gone, and lots of companies have had to action wellbeing talks, mental health first aid training and encourage their staff to take mental ill health days if they need to.

The results of the poll, however, paint a very worrying picture.

In 2019, of the 2000 participants interviewed, employees were taking an average of nearly 4 days off a year for mental ill health, quoting reasons such as stress, exhaustion, depression and feeling overwhelmed.

The fact that people are prioritising their mental health enough to take time off is fantastic, but are their managers aware of the problem?

Unfortunately, of those who took mental ill-health days, over half of the group said they didn’t feel they could express the absence was due to mental health.

55% told their employer it was physical illness at the cause of their absence whilst only a third of the group admitted it was due to mental health.

Of those who did not disclose their mental health day, 65% said they didn’t think their truth would be understood or supported, 30% admitted embarrassment and 27% claimed they did not want their employers to know they were struggling.

Why should managers and companies care about these results?

Because they are actively losing out on productivity and creating a work culture where burnout is frequent and debilitating and, if the results are to be believed, mental health is such a taboo subject that they’re not likely to know this is going on.

If employees are not disclosing their ill mental health due to workload, it can lead to a long period of reduced productivity, shoddy work or even long-term absences or resignations, leaving a company stuck researching and re-hiring and training.

So, where does the solution lie?

Ben Willmott, head of public policy of CIPD, believes that better management might be the key. “If people are managed well they’re less likely to suffer from stress and be more resilient, but also managers need to be able to spot the warning signs that people are struggling to cope”.

Managers who better delegate workloads, are open to creating good communication around mental health and burnout and actively train in mental health first aid to identify problems before they arise are in great demand in today’s work climate.

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