A Conference Board of Canada survey report gives insights into why employees push through mental illness to continue working and how companies can improve policies to enhance employee health and productivity. 

Both employers and employees participated in the survey. A total of 977 employees in Canada and 135 companies were given quantitative and qualitative questions to assess policies around absenteeism and workplace health and wellness practices. The findings were released as a report entitled Why Employees Choose Work Over Wellness: The Links Between Absence Policies, Attendance, and Mental Health

Findings revealed that among employee respondents, 63 per cent would continue to work despite mental health issues, because they felt these didn’t warrant time off. The report says nearly a quarter of the surveyed employees still feel there is stigma around mental health in their organizations. 

“When employees feel limited by their organizational policies and practices to take time off for mental wellness, they’re more likely to show up to work in person than to stay home when they feel unwell,” the report says. 

A one-size-fits all approach is outdated and counterproductive, say the authors, adding that a new data-based approach is needed. 

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However, of the employers surveyed, 81 per cent don’t measure the impact of absence policies on attendance and 88 per cent don’t track the impact on productivity and profitability. 

The report recommends gathering evidence from various sources, including group health benefits, for better absence policies. 

The numbers can be used to re-evaluate paid time off and short-term disability (STD) leave policies, for instance by increasing consecutive sick days before STD kicks in. 

In addition to changing policies, the report says, companies should also actively de-stigmatize mental health issues, encourage trust building between employees and managers, and normalize taking time off and not working while on vacation.