Employees suffer in silence rather than admit health concerns to their boss

Article date: 17 August 2010

  • Just 4% of employees would approach their boss with a health concern
  • 21% of employees think admitting to health concerns could affect their work prospects
  • Employers think they are good at spotting potential personal or health issues in their workforce.

Most UK employees would rather suffer in silence with a health concern or personal issue than tell their boss or colleagues, according to new research from Aviva UK Health.

Just 4% of employees questioned in Aviva’s Health of the Workplace 4 study say they would approach their boss with a health concern. A further 5% claim they might confide in a colleague. Just 1% said they would trust their problems to the HR department.  By comparison 60% say they would unburden themselves to their partner and 33% would speak to the family doctor.

Although nearly a quarter of employees (23%) state this is just a matter of safeguarding their privacy, the research portrays a worrying distance between employer and employee where 21% of employees think admitting to health concerns could affect their work prospects and 11% claim they simply don’t trust their boss. 

Employers, by contrast, are convinced that they are doing all they can to nip potential problems in the bud. 39% claim to make a point of identifying any employee issues and 42% say they operate an open door policy. But, while employers do seem to be taking positive steps to tackle health issues through the introduction of benefits such as private health insurance, group income protection and confidential helplines, they are doing little to communicate that the support services are available and the worrying employee responses suggest that their efforts may still be falling wide of the mark. 

Dr Doug Wright, principal clinical consultant at Aviva UK Health says: “It’s good to see that employers recognise the importance of having an open door policy when it comes to their employees’ health and wellbeing, but we want to make them  aware of the worrying disconnect between their perception and the reality to help them take steps to tackle the issues. 

“The breakdown in communication between employers and their staff means that health risks such as stress in the workplace are not being effectively managed. Lack of employee engagement will also hinder an employer’s ability to intervene early and offer their employees the right support at the right time.

“With the help of providers such as Aviva, employers can start to break down these communication barriers by ensuring they have specialist support networks and services in place for their employees."

At Aviva we recognise that there are many ways to support employees and offer a variety of health and wellbeing solutions including employee assistance services, private medical insurance, group income protection and a range of specialist rehabilitation and occupational health services.


For further information, please contact:
Amber Chable          
02380 359383           

Notes to editors:

The Health of the Workplace research was carried out online by Pollab Ltd between 2 and 11 April 2010 amongst 1,004 UK workers in full time employment and a nationally representative sample of 204 UK senior decision makers in micro, SME and mid corporate companies. The sample is broadly representative of across gender, region, company size, industry and public/private sector.

The top five employee benefits identified through this research are:

  1. Group private medical insurance (31%)
  2. Group life assurance (29%)
  3. Employee assistance programme (18%)
  4. Group income protection (14%)
  5. Group critical illness (11%)

About Aviva 

  • Aviva is the world’s sixth largest* insurance group, serving 53 million customers across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific
  • Aviva's main business activities are long-term savings, fund management and general insurance, with worldwide total sales of £45.1 billion and funds under management of £379 billion at 31 December 2009 
  • We are the largest insurance services provider in the UK and one of the leading providers of life and pensions products in Europe  
  • The Aviva media centre at www.aviva.com/media includes images, company and product information and a news release archive
  • For broadcast-standard video, please visit www.aviva.com/media/video/.  
  • Follow us on twitter: www.twitter.com/avivaplc  

* based on gross worldwide premiums at 31 December 2009.



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