Survey shows stigma prevents honesty about sick leave

Nov 13, 2015

According to a recent poll more than 60 per cent of employees needing time off for a mental health condition wouldn’t share the real reason for their absence, with many unable to access support as a result.

With the right support and treatment most people experiencing a mental health condition are able to keep working, as highly valued employees, colleagues and team members.

However, stigma can be a significant barrier to people talking about their conditions, and seeking the support they need. This often results in increased absences and reduced productivity – although people frequently hide the truth from their employers.

According to an online survey conducted in the UK, employees are more likely to lie to their boss about taking time off work if their absence is caused by mental health conditions rather than physical ailments. The survey found 77 per cent of workers would tell the truth to their manager about needing time off if they had a physical ailment, but only 39 per cent said they would reveal the real reason if they were calling in sick due to stress, anxiety or depression.

In this article Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind – the UK’s leading mental health charity –points out that there is still a taboo around talking about mental health conditions.

"It’s no wonder staff worry about opening up about their mental health, given this research shows that most employers don’t treat mental health problems such as depression and stress as seriously as a physical health problems like back pain when it comes to staff needing time off sick.

‘’Employers that are proactive send the message to their staff that they will be supported if they are experiencing a problem. This should encourage people to seek help sooner, potentially minimising the need for time off," Emma said.

These barriers to seeking support can also cloud the issue for employers. If employees feel uncomfortable discussing their wellbeing and other concerns with managers, the organisation misses a key opportunity to identify workplace and other stressors affecting their staff, and ways to support them better  

Talking openly about mental health in the workplace and bringing people into contact with those recovering from anxiety and depression is the most effective strategy to reduce stigma, helping to break down preconceived ideas and stereotypes. For example, arranging for someone to share their personal experience of a mental health condition and their recovery. This could be a beyondblue ambassador, or you may have an employee or manager willing to speak openly and share their story.

If you’re unsure how to get going, we’ve put together a starter pack to help you develop a strategy and communicate with your team. 

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