17 February 2014

Women make up almost two-thirds of employees taking long-term sickness leave — but these figures could actually say more about men’s health, than women’s.

An analysis by the Department for Work and Pensions found that despite women making up around half of the UK workforce, they accounted for 60% of employee sickness over a month (excluding maternity leave), with men making up the other 40%.

However, according to mental health charity Mind, stress — the number one cause of sickness absence — hits men and women equally; the only difference is in the way they both react to it.

Mind’s 2009 report Get it off your chest: men and mental health revealed that only 23% of men would see their GP if they felt depressed for more than two weeks, compared with 33% of women.

The combination of embarrassment, fearing stigma or discrimination if they open up about a health problem, and job insecurity (experienced by 27% of men; 22% of women) produces a male workforce that appears more healthy — and happy — than it really is.

Tom Pollard, Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at Mind, told Croner: “The disproportionately high levels of long-term sickness absence among women could be because men are more likely to display ‘presenteeism’ — coming into work despite being unwell.”

With sickness absence costing employers £29 billion a year, early intervention is vital. So to keep staff feeling valued, Mind recommends that employers:

  • seek regular communication with staff

  • issue staff surveys to monitor morale

  • offer flexible working hours.

Pollard continued: “When an employee is off sick, it is crucial to keep the lines of communication open, letting them know that they are valued without pressuring them back to work prematurely.

“When they’re ready to return to work, small gestures like meeting them at the entrance or going for a team lunch are good ways to welcome them back.”

From Elliot Sinclair, editor and writer for Croner