Managers can bet that some employees will be taking an extra day off following the long weekend, but the reasons for doing this are more sobering than a hangover.
As the Australia Day long weekend approaches, new research shows that perhaps managers shouldn’t be so quick to judge employees who take extra time off unexpectedly.
Faking a ‘sickie’ is common around this time of year. Often it’s due to excessive partying in the preceding days. Not many managers are likely to believe an employee who calls up claiming to have succumbed to the “flu” on the Tuesday following a long weekend. But sometimes, while employees are still lying about the reasons for their sudden “sickie”, the truth is much more sobering than the hangover from hell.
Ninety-three per cent of employees would rather lie to their managers and pretend they’re suffering from an “embarrassing” physical health condition (like food poisoning) than admit to experiencing a negative shift in their mental state, according to a new report from Allianz Australia into mental health in the workplace.
Each year, approximately three million Australians will experience a mental illness condition of some sort. That’s one in five of us. It could be someone in your team, your company head, or even the person who makes your morning coffee. Chances are, you don’t know who’s affected because mental health issues are rarely discussed. Ninety per cent of people feel they’ll be stigmatised for doing so and 78 per cent fear it could cause them to lose their job.
In fact, according to the 1,000+ employees that Allianz Australia surveyed, 85 per cent of employees expect their manager to think taking time off for a flu is more appropriate than for stress or anxiety. While many employers are doing their best to bust this myth, it shows that more needs to be done to get the message across to employees who need help.
The money factor
It’s common to come across articles and studies this time of year aiming to guilt Australian employees who might be chucking a fake sickie, by throwing a billion dollar figure in lost productivity in their face. Last year, research suggested this occured to the tune of $33 billion dollars – that’s for both legitimate and fake sick days.
This figure is staggeringly high (though we should be wary about drawing conclusions from it) but perhaps it would decrease if organisations spent more money on employee mental health policies.
Mental Health service Black Dog estimate that mental illness costs more than $12 billion in lost productivity in 2018 and Allianz Australia says mental health-related conditions now account for nearly 40 per cent of all its compensation claims, and 11 per cent of total payments.
But how much of the $33 billion in costs lost from sickies could actually be linked with mental health?
Certainly some believe we’re not spending enough on preventative mental health. In October last year, the Productivity Commission announced an inquiry into Australia’s mental health system, assessing whether the $9 billion spent on mental health care in Australia is enough. In an SBS report, health care professionals signalled an increase to this $9 billion was necessary, calling for a bigger slice of the $170 billion health budget.
“I don’t think anyone looking at the most recent statistics on suicide can be satisfied with more of the same,” says Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan.
Allianz Australia’s chief general manager, Helen Silver, agrees.
“We know good worker health and wellbeing boosts organisational health, business performance and productivity, however, there is a rising trend of mental ill-health in Australian workplaces which needs to be addressed.
“The findings from our research indicate that, despite the progress made by both the public and private sectors, there is still a lot of work to be done by employers to address misconceptions when it comes to mental ill-health,” says Silver.
Four ways to shift the conversation
While many organisations are already taking proactive steps to support mentally ill employees, there’s always room for improvement.
Here’s HRM’s wrap up of some advice to take your first steps towards a mentally healthy office.
- Talk about it from day one. If a new hire can see that mental health is normalised in the workplace then they’ll be more likely to speak up when they need help.
- Put budget behind it. The Safety Institute of Australia predicts an ROI of $4 for every $1 invested in mental health issues.
- Create space. And not just space within your policy framework, create physical spaces for employees and managers to have tough discussions. If you have an open plan office, make sure employees know they can utilise meeting rooms and the like to have private conversations behind closed doors. Some organisations are even creating dedicated spaces for wellness.
- Have a daily, rather than reactive, approach. Rather than only talking about mental health on ‘R U Okay? Day’ or if an employee is already experiencing issues, take a daily approach. Encourage employees to sign up to mental health focussed newsletters, speak about your own tough days, and provide information for helplines, posters and brochures in communal spaces. This way, even if an employee isn’t consciously aware of it, they’ll feel as if they’re surrounded by support.
Better understand the implications of mental health in the workplace and the benefits of promoting health and well-being with the Ignition Training in-house course ‘Mindfulness – mental health at work’