Mental health issues are an increasingly significant contributor to absenteeism among employees in the UK, according to new research from NHS Digital, the data and technology arm of the National Health Service. In an analysis of 12 million fit notes written by general practitioners in England between December 2014 and March 2017, NHS Digital found that 31 percent of those notes were issued for mental and behavioral disorders. The study also found that the number of workers who took sick leave or were put on restricted duties because of stress or anxiety increased by 14 percent between 2015-16 and 2016-17. Marianne Calnan discusses the report’s implications with some experts at People Management:
Rachel Suff, senior employee relations adviser at the CIPD, warned that the high proportion of employees experiencing mental ill-health may be linked to the increasing availability of technology. “The line between work and home has become more blurred over recent decades; technology can support flexible working, which can support better wellbeing, but it can also encourage a ‘never switching off’ culture,” she said.
Charlotte Cross, director of the Better Health at Work Alliance, told People Management that organisations should take steps to tackle problems before they escalate. “Employers should ensure they have trained line managers, and ideally mental health first-aiders, to spot early signs of distress or fading resilience and signpost for help before the trigger point is reached,” she said.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper, president of the CIPD and professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, said stress and wellbeing audits may help businesses identify the key causes of work-related stress and take action accordingly.
Last week, Calnan highlighted another study from Willis Towers Watson, which found that nearly half of workers in the UK think employers are under growing pressure to offer health and wellbeing offerings to their employees beyond what is available to them through the NHS:
However, the study of 1,123 workers by Willis Towers Watson also discovered that less than half (49 per cent) of workers think their employer has made adequate provisions to take care of their health and wellbeing. This belief is more pronounced among older workers: just 31 per cent of 55- to 64-year-olds, and 39 per cent of 45- to 54-year-olds said their employer is making provisions for their health, compared with 57 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 59 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds.
Shaun Subel, strategy director at VitalityHealth, told People Management the “changing nature” of work meant employers must reconsider the role they play in community and public health. “Contemporary forms of work result in employees being sedentary for long periods, while the increasing connectivity brought by digital and remote working can impinge work-life balance,” he said.
Taken together, these studies suggest that UK employers are increasingly expected to pay greater attention to—and play a more active role in caring for—the physical and mental health of their workers.