Employees' confessions amid COVID-19 raise questions around the stigma that remains in workplaces
More than one in three employees admitted that they’ve lied to take a sick day, revealed a new study.
Top three reasons cited by employees revolved around mental health issues or stressors, with the fourth-most common reason being they just didn’t think their boss would understand.
As the world’s attention turns to the mental health impact of COVID-19, these confessions raise questions around the stigma that remains in workplaces.
In a survey of 1,000 office-based employees in Singapore, the UK, the US, and United Arab Emirates, Aetna International found that while ‘wanting a day off’ was the second most frequently cited reason for lying, the most common reasons overall related to mental and emotional health:
- 32% lied because they were feeling stressed
- 30% said they were simply ‘feeling down’
- 24% just they weren’t ‘feeling themselves’
- 23% of workers lied because they didn’t think their boss would understand
To further complicate the issue, results also revealed that employees are twice as likely to take time off for a physical health (66%) issue than a mental health problem (34%).
The report therefore suggested that while people take time off for mental health, they may not admit the reasons.
Singaporeans ‘most honest’ about a sickie
Regionally, employees in Singapore are the most honest when it comes to telling their employer about the reasons for taking a sick day.
In fact, 75% of employees in Singapore have never lied to their employer about the reasons for taking a sick day, which is higher than the global average of 64%.
Employees in the US, however, are the most likely to lie to their employer. Close to half (45%) of Americans admitted that they have lied to their employer about the reasons for taking a sick day, which is higher than the global average.
Potential presenteeism in the UK
The survey also showed that across all regions, only one in three employees took zero sick days in 2019.
This could suggest that workers are either rarely ill or are deciding to work despite their illness. This was especially for the UK, which had the highest number of employees (41%) without a record of a sick day off.
The UK also had the lowest number of employees taking at least 11 sick days, suggesting either a healthier population or a potential stigma around taking sick days in the country.
“As a third of employees feel the need to conceal mental illness, anxiety or stress-related reasons for taking a sick day, it’s clear that there is still a high degree of stigma around mental health in the workplace,” said Dr Hemal Desai, Global Medical Director at Aetna International.
“While some of this will be cultural, there’s clearly more that needs to be done to help line managers and employees navigate mental health at work.”
The experienced doctor, who serves under NHS in the UK, advised employers to take steps to improve openness and transparency on mental health issues at work.
For instance, employers can better communicate their policies on mental and behavioural health as well as the legal framework.
“It is important for management to foster a safe environment for employees to share the nature of their personal illness with their line manager – be it mental or physical,” he said.
Employers should also work towards creating a culture of support when it comes to employee health and well-being, added Dr Desai.
“In this day and age, it’s not acceptable for employees to fear workplace discrimination when they’re experiencing mental illness,” he said. “It’s particularly important at the moment as people and organisations alike grapple with the ‘second curve’ of the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of emotional and psychological issues.”