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Employee Benefits

End the Stigma Behind Leaves of Absence

May 10, 2022

Regardless of industry, employee’s age or years of experience, paid time off is an important factor in many prospective employees’ decisions to accept a job. Recently, workers have started focusing more on work-life balance and have started seeking companies that honor those needs. Therefore, it’s no surprise that paid time off benefits are one of the first things discussed, either during the interview or very quickly after extending a job offer.

Yet when the time comes to use some of that time off, you pause to consider the implications of taking time off. What projects are you working on? Who can cover for you while you’re out? Will you appear unreliable to your coworkers? What will your boss think?

And it gets more complicated if you are looking at taking time off for medical reasons. What are your legal rights? How much personal information do you share with your boss, your colleagues, HR and direct reports? Will taking medical time off hinder your career?

Well-Being, Mental Health and Parental Leave Stigma

The stigmas around a leave of absence add complexity to taking time off. And there seems to be a stigma that deeply and negatively impacts employees for virtually every leave type—from medical leave to parental leave.

Very often, concern about disapproval for time off or leaves of absence cause anxiety and may compel some workers to forego taking available leave, with some failing to seek treatment for medical problems, having less bonding time with children, or suffering from overwork and stress.

According to a recent study by Unum, 37% of new dads reported feeling there’s a stigma in their workplace around new parents taking time off. And although 62% of workers said their employer offers paid parental leave, 50% said they spent 30 days or fewer away from the workplace after the birth or adoption of a child.

Time off for mental health comes with its own stigma. A recent study from Aetna International showed that employees are twice as likely to take time off for a physical health issue than a mental health problem (66% versus 34%, respectively). When 1,000 U.K. and U.S. employees were asked about the state of mental and physical health in the workplace, more than one-third of respondents admitted to lying about taking a sick day to deal with stress and issues related to mental health. This points to a continued stigma around taking time off to address mental health.

Of those survey respondents who said they had lied:

  • 1% lied because they were feeling stressed
  • 6% lied because they were feeling down
  • 3% lied because they weren’t feeling themselves
  • 6% lied because they didn’t think their boss would understand

“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,” Dr. Hemal Desai, Global Medical Director at Aetna International, stated. “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.”

While mental health affects many employees in the U.K. and U.S., it looks as if many employees feel mental health is generally not seen as a ‘legitimate’ reason for taking a sick day.

End the Stigma of Taking Time Off

It’s been proven that taking time away from work can have a wealth of benefits, such as lower rates of heart disease, decreased stress and improved productivity. Yet only a small minority of companies encourage vacation time off. And most employees even leave vacation time unused for fear of looking replaceable, which can have a doubly detrimental effect on company culture and employee morale.

Leaving this time on the table is detrimental to both employees and employers. Employers want engaged employees, and employees want to work for companies that support work-life balance. In a work environment that prioritizes employee health, workers tend to have a more vested interest in the success of the business, driving higher productivity and performance. Employees who believe their employers care about their health and well-being are 38% more engaged in their work

Stigmas seriously affect the well-being of those who experience it. Therefore, companies need to protect employees by reducing stigmas within the workplace. Companies can help simply by encouraging its employees to take advantage of benefits like leave without pretext or fear of repercussions. The most effective methods are by increasing awareness, offering education and supporting employees.

If you’re interested in learning about how your company can enhance its wellness and leave program initiatives, reach out to your Hylant representative Don’t have one? Contact us here.

The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your employee benefits broker or trusted advisor for insurance-related questions.

Authored By

Joy Sanders

Joy Sanders

Absence & Leave Management Practice Leader

Joy brings 10 years of experience of working in the human resources field. Joy uses a consultative approach to understand current business processes, challenges, wants and needs. Focusing on market research and trends, she is determined to seek out vendors/carriers with enhanced technical capabilities, superior client service and an integrated solution offering.

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