Supporting mental health: Milkround’s research on mental health sick days

Our most recent insight has found that workers are still shying away from admitting to their struggles with colleagues.

Key Findings

  • 63% of the UK population don’t realise that there’s no legal difference between a sick day and a mental health sick day
  • 62% of Gen Z have taken a mental health sick day, but only 24% were honest with their employer…
  • In fact, only 14% of UK workers have felt that they could be honest about taking a mental health sick day
  • 75% of Gen Z would worry about being called a ‘Snowflake’ if they took a mental health sick day, to the extent that 43% would not even take the day off
  • Full report and insights available at:


Exactly half of all UK workers admit to suffering from mental ill health, a figure that alarmingly rises when exploring age ranges. A worrying 72% of Gen Zs and 58% of Millennials experienced mental health issues, with the difference proving particularly stark when compared with those over 35’s, with only 39% reporting the same.


When we look at whether their career has contributed to mental ill health, a similar story emerges. Nationally, one in four (23%) said their job was negatively impacting their mental health, but this figure jumps significantly with the younger respondents more likely to link mental health struggles with work, as nearly two-thirds (64%) from Gen Z and Millennial groups attribute work stresses to the cause of mental health issues.

For those that experience mental health issues, it is still not the ‘norm’ to reach out for support; currently 69% go undiagnosed. This is echoed in the workplace, where 49% of people did not feel that they could take a mental health sick day from work, even when needed.

From those that opened up about suffering from mental ill health, both men and women were more affected by anxiety (72% of women and 61% of men) and depression, over sleep disorder (27% of men over 24% of women) and personality disorder (5% of men over 3% of women).

Masking mental ill health at work

Despite the high level of people that suffer from mental ill health in the UK, it is still seemingly taboo to admit to feeling mentally unwell in the office, where only 29% have taken time off to care for a mental health issue.

Hesitance in taking a mental health sick day was linked back to judgement in the workplace. Concern that colleagues would make assumptions about them and their mental health (57%) was the lead issue, seconded by the discomfort felt when talking to employers (37%). 23% of respondents were even concerned that a resulting day off would go as far as to damage their career.

Gen Z and Millennials were consistently found to be more open about their mental health issues and specifically suffering from the negative connotations implied by the media term: Snowflake.

71% of Gen Z believe that being called a ‘Snowflake’ has a negative effect on young people’s mental health, rising to 75% that are – as a result – concerned about taking a mental health day for fear of being labelled by this, or similar. The detrimental ‘Snowflake’ effect is becoming such a concern for the younger workers, that 43% would not take a mental health sick day to avoid being linked to the ‘Snowflake’ generation.


It was commonplace (77%) for the full spectrum of respondents to believe that steps should be put in place in the workplace to make people more comfortable in taking a mental health sick day. This again rises to 92% across Gen Z and 85% of Millennials. 72% of Gen Z and 60% of Millennials would even be more likely to apply for a job should mental health sick days be made available. Openness in the workplace was recognised as key, where 40% of all workers would feel assured in their ability to take time off if other colleagues or managers had previously taken a mental health sick day.

Natasha Devon MBE is a writer, presenter & activist, who has authored and contributed to books on mental health and body image comments on the research findings: My work in schools, colleges and universities over the past decade has revealed a truly promising reduction in mental health stigma and increased emotional vocabulary amongst young people. Yet, this study by Milkround shows that, once they enter the workplace, some of this progress is being undone. Evidence shows employees who look after their mental health are more productive, so it’s in employers’ best interests to advertise the existence of mental health sick days and encourage their staff to take them, if needed.”


Georgina Brazier, Graduate Jobs Expert at Milkround said: “Our 2019 Candidate Compass report identified that 1 in 3 students and graduates suffer from mental health issues, and we therefore wanted to delve further into this subject. There is no doubt we have made significant societal gains in developing more positive and open attitudes towards mental health, but our research suggests that these societal gains have not yet been fully incorporated into our workplaces.

Despite workplaces working harder than ever before to adopt positive mental health practices, 76% of people still feel that they cannot be open with their employers about taking sick days for mental ill health. This is especially saddening when our research suggests that over half of those who have taken a mental health sick day, reported increases in not just their well-being, but their productivity too.

Mental Health Days are clearly a win-win for both an employer and an employee. We’re using this research to drive awareness about the necessity for mental health sick days and encourage employers to take these.



The research was conducted by Opinium on behalf of Milkround, with 2,000 respondents who are representative of the UK working population plus a boost of 500 Gen Z, between 13.09.2019 – 16.09.2019.

Natasha Devon MBE is a writer, presenter & activist. She tours schools and colleges throughout the UK, delivering talks as well as conducting research on mental health, body image, gender equality. She campaigns both on and offline to make the world a fairer place. Her current projects are the Mental Health Media Charter and Where’s Your Head At, which aims to change the law to protect the mental health of British workers.

Millennials, mental health and company culture

95% of employers surveyed by Totaljobs consider a candidate’s cultural fit as important in the application process. The high figure is unsurprising, as like-mindedness and productivity often go hand-in-hand; something recognised by over half of employers. No matter how many benefits a role has, if a candidate is not a good cultural fit within the pre-existing team, it’s unlikely they will stay around in the long term.

It’s in the best interests of both employer and employee that there is a universally immersive and open company culture. Employees, particularly graduates, want to feel that they are contributing to a shared business goal and by feeling that they are an integral ‘fit’, friendships will most likely be formed. This sense of community is crucial both in terms of business and employee welfare.

While some graduates may not possess masses of work experience, recognising potential and how this can be realised and utilised within the pre-existing team is important when choosing a candidate.

Work Friendships

Friendships in the office are greatly beneficial, as long as they do not teeter over the line of focus into distraction. In fact, only 4% of employees think close relationships at work make them less productive. 39% feel more productive working alongside friends, and 60% look forward to going to work as a result of a close bond formed with like-minded people.

The business value of friendships is clearly recognised, as three-quarters of employers routinely organise social events, from seasonal parties, to drinks and meals out and company milestone celebrations.

Company culture and mental health

If a graduate, or any new starter, does not comfortably fit into your company culture, it may lead to workplace loneliness. Good&Co highlight research that reveals feeling excluded is more negative for personal wellbeing than bullying or harassment.

This loneliness may manifest itself in different ways: the outdated view that emotions should remain outside of the workplace can contribute to feelings of isolation. Not everyone is able to compartmentalise their work and home life – nor should they feel like they have to.

Mental health is a topic that is rightfully being discussed more in the context of a professional working environment – the story of a CEO responding to an employee taking a mental health day is hopefully a sign that this will become standard practice. Millennials have grown up being more aware of the importance of mental health and being open when it comes to discussing this. Employers need to continue to place equal value on mental welfare as they would do physical health.

The relationships within a team should be considered just as vital as a candidate’s skills and potential. After all, young people who do not feel welcomed as part of a supportive team are unlikely to reach their full potential and will be less likely to feel comfortable seeking advice or voicing concerns. A flourishing social environment is essential for a successful business.


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