HRE’s number of the day: employee sick days

Here’s how many employees take a sick day for mental health reasons, but don’t tell employers the reason.
By: | June 9, 2020 • 2 min read

32: Percentage of employees who say they took a sick day because they were feeling stressed

A third of employees say they have taken a sick day because of stress, according to a survey of 1,000 employees by Aetna International. Meanwhile, the survey results also reveal that employees are twice as likely to take time off for a physical health issue than a mental health problem (66% versus 34% respectively).

What it means to HR leaders

The data reveals that while employees take time off for mental health, they may not admit the reasons. This indicates that employees still don’t feel comfortable speaking up about mental or emotional health.


“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,” says Dr. Hemal Desai, global medical director at Aetna International. “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.”

Related:Is COVID-19 a turning point for workplace mental health?

With mental health issues on the rise, especially because of COVID-19, employers have been taking steps to improve openness and transparency on mental health issues in their workplace. But there’s more work to be done, Dr. Desai says.

Related:10 strategies to improve employee mental health

“It is important for management to foster a safe environment for employees to share the nature of their personal illness with their line manager—be it mental or physical,” he says. “In this day and age, it’s not acceptable for employees to fear workplace discrimination when they’re experiencing mental illness. Instead, employers can work toward creating a culture of support when it comes to employee health and wellbeing. It’s particularly important at the moment as people and organizations alike grapple with the second curve of the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of emotional and psychological issues.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at

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