Fear of stigma stopping UAE employees from taking health and well-being benefits

Fear of stigma stopping UAE employees from taking health and well-being benefits

A new survey conducted by Aetna International – which polled over 1000 workers in the UAE – has revealed that many employees are reluctant to use health and well-being benefits offered by their employers, for fear of being judged and worries about how management will react if they find out.

When respondents were asked what stops them from accessing the current health and well-being benefits provided by their employer, the top reason cited (29%) was fear that their career progression would be impacted if HR/management found out that they were struggling. Just 22% said that they didn’t feel comfortable accessing benefits as they felt no one else was and 20% also worried about how they would be perceived by colleagues if they used health and well-being resources.

This worrying level of stigma is particularly acute when it comes to mental health. A total of 27% of UAE respondents cited worrying about HR/management finding out details about their mental health as a key reason they avoid using their health and well-being benefits.

“We know from previous research that businesses in the UAE 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,” said David Healy, CEO EMEA at Aetna International. “In spite of these best efforts, these findings suggest that a significant number of employees may try to cope alone with mental or physical health challenges. 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.”

Action employers can take

The survey data shows there are a number of steps employers can take to remove this stigma and encourage employees to seek the help they need:

  • Encourage leaders to be more empathetic and enhance the communication on health and well-being – about 35% of UAE respondents said they would be more likely to access health and well-being support if leadership communicated more about available resources.
  • Build a culture and work environment where employees feel safe to openly discuss the physical, mental and emotional issues they are facing – Only 33% of UAE employees said that knowing there is clear policy on mental health that ensures they will not be penalised for accessing support and 38% said that knowing their peers are also accessing the same resources would be two key criteria that will encourage them to use more employer provided health and well-being resources.
  • Offer regular trainings and webinars – specifically around practical tips for managing well-being and how to spot and support employees and colleagues who might be struggling with mental health.
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