Hiding chronic pain at work higher than likely for leaders

Leaders choose not to reveal chronic health issues due to fears of being perceived as incapable and missing out on career growth opportunities.
By: | May 25, 2023

Employees in leadership positions are more likely than not hiding any chronic illnesses that they may have, in fear of missing out on career growth opportunities and promotions. 

This was a key finding made by Dr Peter Ghin and Professor Susan Ainsworth, researchers from the University of Melbourne, who conducted a study surveying 326 leaders from Australia and New Zealand about their experiences with long-term illnesses in the workplace, including mental health issues. In the study, the researchers found that over a quarter of leaders (28%) chose not to disclose their health issues in the workplace, with the majority choosing to make partial disclosures to trusted work colleagues or managers (54%), reported Pursuit. 

Reasons for the lack of transparency, as identified from the study, are linked to concerns that disclosure of chronic illnesses might be held against employees and stall career progression. Nearly half of the respondents (42%) agreed that full disclosure of their health issues would lead to being perceived as not being capable of doing their jobs, with 39% of the respondents concerned that they would be passed over for promotions, and 73% of respondents admitting that they would hide any symptoms acting up at work.

READ MORE: Mental health issues impacting workplace productivity in Singapore

The researchers recommended that organisations create an open and safe workplace culture that encourages leaders and managers who chronic illnesses to seek help and request ‘reasonable adjustments’ that support them. This, they added, also demonstrate to all employees that having a chronic health condition does not devalue their status as a valued employee, nor reduce their career advancement prospects.