How has COVID-19 affected the mental health and wellbeing of the working population? What impact will this have on absence for UK businesses? And what can employers do to reduce absence and support employee mental health?
Mental Health and Long-Term Absence
The most common reasons for long-term sickness are, by far and away, related to mental health.
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, research suggested that 37% of employers had seen an increase in absences due to stress.
Furthermore, stress, depression and anxiety already accounted for 44% of ill-health among employees. They also accounted for an eye watering 54% of all working days lost. That’s according to the Health and Safety Executive data and its 2019 report into workplace stress anxiety and depression.
And this was all before the pandemic. It’s inevitable the measures imposed during lockdown, teamed with associated anxieties relating to job security and money, will only increase these numbers.
The Impact of Lockdown
The Samaritans recently reported receiving over 7,000 calls, emails and letters during one single day of lockdown. Further research from BUPA UK shows that two thirds of those currently working from home are nervous about a return to the office. And one in four people are expecting their mental health to get worse as the country tries to re-open the economy.
BUPA found comparatively high levels of poor mental health since the commencement of the pandemic, in particular since lockdown. But despite this, only 5% of those affected have spoken to a health professional. And a worrying 43% have reported a sense that they should simply just get on with it.
How it Affects Your Business
All this paints a pretty dim picture for the future. As we know, businesses are massively impacted by staff absences. Not only does it affect business continuity and cause problems with staff cover, it can also affect a business’ ability to deliver its products or services at the expected standard.
It therefore makes sense for businesses of all sizes to be proactive in their approach to mental health issues and put into place support and processes aimed at helping employees with any mental health issues they may encounter. Thereby, hopefully reducing absenteeism.
So, what steps can you take to reduce absence and better support your employees’ mental health?
1. Effective Communication
Communicate to your employees that your company’s attitude towards mental health issues is open and progressive. This could go a long way to dissuading employees from ‘bottling up’ any issues they are facing.
2. Employee Assistance Programme
You may wish to consider some form of Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). This is where employees are given access to an outsourced provider of assistance that’s 100% confidential. This could be of particular benefit to those employees who, despite the company’s open stance, may still feel a sense of stigma over poor mental health.
3. Absence Monitoring
Another way in which companies can seek to get ahead of the curve and reduce absence, is to actively monitor absence patterns. Not just in terms of the amount of time being taken, but the frequency, and whether there is any pattern as to the days of the week.
This can all be done manually, but there are also a number of software options that can provide alerts when a particular level of absence, or an absence pattern, is detected.
4. Return to Work Interviews
Finally, having a robust return to work interview process has been proven to greatly assist with absence management.
Do you have employees who just like to take the odd day off? Having to explain face-to-face why they were absent can improve their attendance.
For those with genuine difficulties, identifying the source of the problems, whether they be physical or mental, is really important. This information will put the employer in the best position to tailor any support needed. Plus, it will of course help keep workplace absence down to a minimum.
Got questions on how to monitor absence patterns, the benefits of EAP, or how best to reduce absence and support employee mental health? Contact Moorepay for help and support.
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Having completed degrees In Law, Criminal Justice and Federal Politics, Stuart finished his training at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2003. He was then awarded a scholar's bursary from the Honorable Society of the Inner Temple in October 2003 and called to the Bar of England and Wales.
Stuart's experience handling hundreds of cases enables him to identify risk efficiently, working closely with Moorepay's advice service to place our clients in strong positions should they ever be sued.
At Moorepay, Stuart has practiced exclusively in Employment Law, representing employers regularly in Tribunals across the UK in cases covering Wages, Breach of Contract, Unfair Dismissal, Discrimination, Transfer of Undertakings, Whistleblowing, Working Time and many others.