July 15, 2024

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Why employers should look at presenteeism & mental illness during Stress Awareness Week

To mark International Stress Awareness Week (5th to 9th November), mental health charity, Mind, is calling for employers to talk about stress in the workplace and to encourage staff to share their thoughts and feelings when they are feeling stressed.

Meanwhile, new research from Canada Life[i] highlights that ‘presenteeism’ is on the rise in the UK with over a fifth (22%) of employees going into work when mentally unwell.  The research suggested there is a perception that taking time off for a mental illness is less widely accepted than for a physical illness – with three in ten employees (29%) saying it’s easy to take time off for a physical illness in their organisation, but not for a mental illness.

Adrian Lewis, Director at Welsh HR software specialist, Activ Absence believes that employers need to tackle presenteeism due to mental health issues.  He says:

“While awareness days help to draw attention to mental health issues such as stress, there is still a stigma around mental illness in the workplace. This is fuelling rising presenteeism and employers need to tackle this.

“Going into work when mentally unwell is likely to exacerbate issues. Often people who struggle to go into work end up making themselves worse and having time off as their condition doesn’t improve.  This isn’t good for people’s mental wellbeing and it isn’t good for business either.”

Lewis says many workplaces don’t make it easy for people to talk about mental illness, again something borne out by researchers, who found that 15% said that their boss and colleagues would not take them seriously if they took time off for a mental health issues.  A similar proportion (15%) worry that taking time off for a mental illness would jeopardise their opportunities for progression.

People also reported feeling embarrassed to say they were off with a mental health issue and that their boss and colleagues have less understanding about mental health issues than physical conditions.

Adrian Lewis says,

“In many organisations a shift in the workplace culture is needed along with a better understanding of mental health issues. Encouraging people to talk more about issues such as stress can be a big step forward, as well as introducing flexible working and offering support through employee assistance programmes and of course.”

“A good starting point for organisations is to recognise if someone is suffering mentally. Investing in technology, such as absence management software, can help organisations spot trends and uncover underlying health issues such as stress and anxiety.

“Having the right systems in place adds transparency and is a way to get to the root causes of any rise in absence. Spotting absence patterns and conducting back to work interviews if someone has been off are essential to address any issues or concerns someone has.  Employers can then offer tailored support if needed and help someone manage their mental health better or suggest places they can get help.”