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Report shows workers unlikely to reveal health issues

20 September 2021

ALMOST HALF of UK employees would not talk to their employer if they were experiencing a health issue, having a detrimental impact on business performance and culture, according to new research from not-for-profit healthcare provider, Benenden Health.

As many as 41% of individuals reported that they wouldn’t feel confident discussing any health issue with their employer, with many worrying about what it would mean for their career and relationships within the workplace.

Almost a third of businesses (28%) accepted that they would have concerns about offering support to those in need, with as many as a fifth (19%) revealing that they have previously hired someone with pre-existing health conditions but wouldn’t do so again, perpetuating the cycle of hidden health issues at work while open conservations and effective support are not forthcoming. 

With more than half of all UK employees (51%) revealing that they have a health issue, long-term condition or disability, Benenden Health is warning that fear and stigma around health in the workplace means millions of workers may not be getting the necessary – or any - support from their employers. This could lead to absences, lower productivity and employees ultimately leaving their job. 

The organisation has launched a new report shedding light on the key health issues and conditions that affect the nation’s workforce and offering advice to businesses on how to provide support to all employees - regardless of their background or health status - and ensure healthcare provision caters equally and inclusively for a diverse team.  

The survey of 2,000 employees and 500 business owners revealed the most common ailments that workers have not disclosed to their employer to be poor mental health, high blood pressure and arthritis – all conditions that could be exacerbated in the workplace.

More than a third of employees (36%) also disclosed that they have lied to an employer about taking time off for an appointment, with almost half (44%) of 16-24 year olds doing so, making it difficult for businesses to ensure workers are getting the appropriate support.

The reasons why employees would be reticent to discuss their wellbeing at work were also revealed, with a third saying they would worry that people would think they couldn’t do their job (29%), more than a quarter believing they might lose their job (27%), a fifth concerned that they would be talked about and one in ten (9%) worrying that people wouldn’t want to be their friend. 

For some, these concerns were based on experience, with 15% of employees believing that they have been overlooked for a job in the past due to a health issue, long-term condition or disability. 

Following the findings that a quarter of businesses (26%) still don’t offer any healthcare support in addition to statutory allowances and 60% of those that do failing to consult employees when doing so, Benenden Health is calling on business owners to open communication channels with their teams and consider the health needs of their workforce to support positive wellbeing, increase retention and reduce unexpected absences. 

Naomi Thompson, head of OD at Benenden Health said, “It is disappointing that so many people still feel they can’t speak to their employers about their wellbeing and that a sizeable number of decision makers reinforce this with dated approaches to hiring people with long-term health issues.

“This stigma is especially prevalent in the workplace, with businesses too often unable to identify wellbeing issues, employees concerned about the implications of discussing them and a continuing lack of tangible support, all of which contribute to lost time and productivity for businesses as well as unaddressed poor employee wellbeing.

“Healthcare support should be available to all employees – not just senior staff - and despite some misconceptions, this can be implemented at an affordable cost. Tailored wellbeing programmes, developed with employee consultation and recognising the different needs of a multigenerational workforce, can increase productivity, support recruitment and promote a happier and healthier workforce.”

Benenden Health enables businesses to offer affordable, high quality, private healthcare to every employee. This includes round the clock care such as mental health helplines, 24/7 GP plus access to services such as mental health counselling support and medical diagnostics so employees can have peace of mind that they can ask for help whenever they need it.

For more information about Benenden Health and to download its guide, visit the Benenden website.