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A fifth of employees have gone to work when feeling ‘mentally unwell’

Four in 10 believe it is easier to take time off for a physical illness

One in five (19%) employees went into work while feeling mentally unwell in 2018, rising to a quarter (24%) of respondents aged 18 to 39, a poll reveals.

The research from Canada Life Group Insurance found 21% of workers said they are more embarrassed to take time off for a mental illness than a physical one, while 40% said it easier to take time off for a physical illness than mental health conditions – up from 29% the previous year.

The proportion of workers who believe it is equally easy to take time off for physical and mental illness has fallen from 25% in 2018 to 18% in 2019.

However, the survey suggests the majority of employees show a certain level of understanding when it comes to workplace illnesses. A quarter (25%) are sympathetic towards those taking time off for either a physical or mental illness. 

Just 16% said they don’t believe colleagues are really ill when they call in sick, although one in five (21%) get stressed by the additional workload caused by absent staff. 

Similarly, only 16% believe their boss and colleagues have less of an understanding of mental health problems than physical ones.

The research also found a third (32%) of employees believe that access to flexible working options would help them take time off for either a physical or mental illness.

A quarter of staff believe that creating a positive attitude to health and wellbeing or ensuring there is less pressure to be always on would help.

Paul Avis, marketing director for Canada Life Group Insurance, warned that when employees force themselves to carry on working without support it could make things worse and result in an extended leave of absence, which is detrimental for both staff and employers. 

“To alleviate workers’ fears, employers should ensure they have the necessary support structures in place and communicate these effectively. Crucially, mental health must be treated with the same degree of understanding and respect as physical health issues,” he argued.