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Not taking time off for poor mental health impacts work quality

A manager's guide to mental health has been launched by charity Mind and CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. 

The guide, which is free to download, takes managers through the essentials of mental health, including what it is, why it matters, how to spot signs of problems and how to intervene early. It also provides tips on how to talk about mental health, and encourage people to open up so that they can be supported more effectively.

Mental ill health is now the primary cause of long-term sick leave for one in five (22%) of organisations. That's according to research by CIPD. Mind found that out of 44,000 employees, only two in five felt that their manager would be able to spot signs that they were struggling with mental health issues.

Rachel Suff, Senior Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, said: “Mental health is still the elephant in the room in most workplaces, and a culture of silence can have a damaging impact on a business as well as individuals.

"This can include an escalation of someone’s condition as well as higher levels of sickness absence, presenteeism, turnover, conflict, and disengagement. There’s also the risk of potential legal action from employees who feel discriminated against."

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is when people turn up to work simply to show their presence, even if they're feeling too run-down or ill to work properly. Often people are reluctant to take time off to recuperate in case it reflects poorly on them. In some organisations there is a dangerous culture of prioritising work over everything else - including employee health and wellbeing.

According to the CIPD Employee Outlook survey, not taking time off for poor mental health can lead to a rise in the following work behaviours:

  • taking longer to carry out tasks (64%)
  • finding it more difficult to juggle multiple tasks at once (48%)
  • putting off challenging work (42%)
  • finding it more difficult to concentrate (85%)
  • being more likely to clash with others (37%)
  • having difficulty making decisions (54%)
  • feeling less patient with customers or clients (48%)

When sick leave is not taken when it's needed, the quality of work is compromised, and the individual is not getting the down-time that could help them recover much faster.

The stigma of mental health at work 

Are people comfortable talking about mental health with their managers? There has always been a disconnect between our personal and professional lives, as if the moment we step into the workplace, we stop being human. While work does require us to focus and put our personal issues aside, we cannot simply switch off our mental health problems. In fact, work can often make them worse, especially when it comes to stress and anxiety.

According to a survey by anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, stigma around mental health is weakening. They found a 7% rise in people's willingness to work with someone with a mental health problem since 2009. However, there is still a lot to be done. As many as 49% of people said they would still feel uncomfortable talking to an employer about their mental health.

To make sure employees take the time they need to recover, and get the support they need to cope, it is essential to create an open, accepting culture at work. This starts with managers, but training should also feed down to staff. Colleagues should look out for each other.

You can train staff to understand and spot the signs of workplace stress with our online stress awareness e-learning course. It takes 20-45 minutes to complete, and sends a report straight to your central health and safety system so training can be tracked and audited.