New research has revealed that one third of UK Brits (34 per cent) have lied over the true reason they are taking time off work when unwell, for fear of stigma in the workplace.
The independent OnePoll study, commissioned by national charity Crohn’s & Colitis UK, found that employees frequently pick a ‘one-off’ or short-term health complaint when calling in sick, instead of telling the truth about reoccurring problems.
The UK survey of employed adults showed that long-term health conditions are deemed the ‘least valid’ reasons for not attending work, despite their often devastating symptoms. Only fifteen per cent of people said that Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis – the two most common forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease – were acceptable reasons to call in sick. Other often invisible long-term conditions, such as depression (11 per cent), anxiety (4 per cent) and fatigue (3 per cent), scored even lower.
This isn’t only related to sick days. Crohn’s and Colitis also came second only to mental health as a ‘taboo subject’ in workplace conversations.*
When asked for the most ‘legitimate’ reason for taking a sick day, the British public’s top three answers were short-term illnesses: vomiting (43 per cent), flu (36 per cent) and food poisoning (33 per cent).
When calling in sick, Brits cover up the real reason for their illness for fear of judgement (32 per cent) and feel anxious (37 per cent), stressed (28 per cent) and doubted (22 per cent) when having to take time off work.
For those with a long-term health condition, over half of respondents (57 per cent) feel they have to downplay their condition at work. Of the fifty-seven per-cent, forty-three per-cent believe they will experience stigma in the workplace, and thirty-eight per-cent believe that it will affect their careers. This means they are not only suffering – but they are suffering in silence.
It also seems that their concerns are not ungrounded, as fifty-one per-cent of respondents feel that their workplace does not provide a supportive environment for dealing with their long-term condition.
The findings are supported by additional research by Crohn’s & Colitis UK. This shows that forty-four per cent of the 300,000 people living with Crohn’s and Colitis in the UK today agree that their long-term health condition hasaffected their careers.
It’s easy to understand why. The OnePoll study also found that just under one in five workers feel ‘frustrated’ towards colleagues who are frequently off sick (18 per cent), and 6 per cent feel ‘angry’ towards these colleagues.
Sarah Brown, 34, works in a media agency in London and has Ulcerative Colitis. She says: “Before I call in sick to work I get extremely anxious that my colleagues will judge me for taking more time off work. For this reason, I often downplay my Colitis as a stomach bug as I don’t want others to think my long-term condition will have an impact on how well I can do my job.”
Yvonne Tyree, 54, found the worry so bad that she is now self-employed: “Whilst in employment I often asked my GP to put something other than Crohn’s Disease on my sick note for fear of judgement that I was unable to do my job.”
Juliet Chambers, Communications Manager at Crohn’s & Colitis UK says: “Living with any long-term condition is hard. Crohn’s and Colitis are a growing but hidden health crisis in UK workplaces – and people need better support and understanding to manage these conditions.
“Right now, too many people feel forced to downplay the severity of their illness at work because of stigma. What’s worse, the stress and anxiety experienced by employees calling in sick will only increase the already devastating symptoms of their disease. We need to break down this taboo in the workplace and help employers and colleagues understand the true impact of these hidden diseases.”
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