A survey commissioned by health insurance provider Aetna International has found that fear of stigma is the key barrier preventing many employees from being open about their health concerns.
The survey, which examined the views of 3,520 workers in four countries (the UAE, UK, US, and Singapore), found that the top-three reasons cited by respondents for not accessing the healthcare benefits they are entitled to are:
- 29 per cent fear that their career progression may be impacted if HR/management believes they are struggling
- 27 per cent fear revealing their mental health details to HR/management
- 24 per cent expressed uncertainty about how to access existing health and wellbeing benefits
In addition, one fifth (20 per cent) of respondents also said that they don’t use health and wellbeing benefits due to worries about how their colleagues will perceive them if they do.
This survey follows the release of similar research by health insurer Allianz Partners in October, which reported a disconnect among employees between their awareness of mental health and willingness to use support services.
“These findings suggest that a significant minority of employees may try to cope alone when facing mental or physical health challenges,” says Aetna International’s CEO for Europe, David Healy. “Sadly stigma, particularly around mental health, means some employees still believe they could face repercussions if they reveal they are struggling, which should never be the case in any workplace.”
Employees are uncertain about how to access their benefits
Worryingly, nearly 48 per cent of those surveyed also said that they would be more likely to use health and wellbeing benefits if they were properly introduced to them, with 45 per cent saying that they would like proper training on how to access and use available support.
Aetna says that this seems to indicate that even if employers have good initiatives in place, they may be missing out on simple steps, such as introductory briefings and training sessions, which could help educate employees on how to access and use the health support available.
Participants also said that they believed that better communication and training could play a critical role in alleviating this fear of stigma, with 42 per cent of respondents saying that they would like to see more management training to better deal with employee wellbeing, and 31 per cent feeling that their employer could help to destigmatise mental health issues by discussing them more openly. Thirty per cent also said that reassurance that they won’t be penalised for using mental health support would encourage them to use these services more.
How can employee concerns be addressed?
Reflecting on the results of the survey, Aetna suggests a several steps which employers can take to address these issues:
- Offer employees a more structured introduction to available support, such as a formal introduction or training on current benefits
- Encourage more open discussions around health, wellbeing and where to access support – 36 per cent of employees said they would feel more comfortable using benefits if they were using them, and 35 per cent said they would use their benefits more if leadership spoke more about them
- Consider how support can be tailored – 33 per cent would use their available benefits if they were more personalised to their individual needs
- Be clear about privacy – 32 per cent of respondents said that knowing what information was available to others about their benefits use would encourage them to use them more.
“The good news is that the vast majority of businesses are now more supportive of their employees’ wellbeing, the challenge is ensuring employees feel able and empowered to speak up and use the support and resources available to them,” added Healy.
“We know from previous research that businesses across the world have notably increased their support for employee health and well-being over the last 18 months, and have become much more sensitive to the stress, anxiety and other pressures people face on a daily basis.”