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67% of professionals uncomfortable about requesting mental health leave

67% OF UK professionals state that they feel too uncomfortable requesting mental health leave from their employer or senior leaders in their company.

Over a quarter (28%) of professionals wouldn’t even consider speaking up about it.

New poll data from specialist recruitment company Robert Walters highlights how unprepared employers are for the current ‘mental health crisis’ – the government recently released plans to ‘overhaul’ the current sicknote system due to the number of professionals taking sick leave reaching a ten year high – primarily driven by a rise in mental health-related conditions and symptoms.

Coral Bamgboye, Group Head of TA and Employee Experience at Robert Walters comments: “It seems many UK workplaces still harbour a ‘culture of silence’  around mental health leave – implying a taboo remains around requesting it.

“Official figures highlight sick-leave reaching a 10-year high – indicative of increasing levels of ‘presenteeism’ causing issues to snowball into more significant problems which end in doctor-prescribed sicknotes and extended time-off.”

49% of professionals admitted that they would carry on working regardless of whether they were experiencing poor mental health – with only 10% stating they would immediately call in sick.

Over two-fifths of professionals highlighted ‘concerns over job stability’ as a key trigger of stress at work – with many professionals who experience poor mental health being reluctant to take time off for fear that they’ll fall behind on deadlines or projects which could put their positions at risk.

Coral comments: “The more professionals carry on working despite experiencing poor mental health – due to impending deadlines or worries of falling behind  – the more susceptible they are to having to take extended time off further down the line for issues which have since become unmanageable.”

Indeed – over 62% of professionals reported that they are taking less time off now compared to the same time last year – despite no drastic improvements in employee wellbeing being recorded. The impact of presenteeism is highlighted in a survey by Champion Health – which found that poor mental health impacts productivity for 1 in 5 employees in the UK.  

It was recently reported by Robert Walters that two-thirds of managers are in their positions despite having no formal training – a further 40% report having a ‘weak’ relationship with HR and 71% no further ED&I training outside what is offered at a general employee-level.

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Coral comments: “The vast majority of managers in the UK not receiving appropriate training in HR and ED&I matters is a huge red flag in terms of their ability to appropriately handle cases of employees experiencing mental health-related issues and mental health leave.”

Not only that, but only half of the professionals polled stated that their employer has a clear mental health policy – with a further 26% unsure on whether their company did or not.

Coral comments: “Companies without a clear mental health policy won’t be able to provide their workforce with a central point of information, support and understanding of resources available to them– creating a culture of silence when it comes to important issues like mental health leave.

“With the pressure to hit targets, a still tight economy, inflated cost-of-living and upcoming general election causing significant uncertainty in the market – it is more important than ever that employers approach this issue now before it develops and has an impact on an even greater number of people.”

Coral Bamgboye shares her top three things employers should be considering to boost mental health awareness in their organisations:

  • Accessible policies – having a clear mental health policy in any workplace is vital in giving a central point of information, support and training for your staff in mental health matters. Making sure all employees know how to access it – from their first of employment can help to form a culture where professionals feel comfortable to speak about mental health and access the right support for them.
  • Avoid one-size-fits all approaches – understand what is making your staff specifically sign-off sick is key here, there will be other reasons at play in every situation and this varies greatly depending on your company, e.g.  could reference elements of your culture that needs adjusting.
  • Training for leadership – invest in training your managers and senior leaders so they’re aware of the importance of having open conversations around mental health, spotting any signs of issues within their teams and creating safe spaces in the workplace.