Mental health problems are the single largest cause of UK sick leave

- Leadership - Oct 25, 2016

Around 17 million working days were lost in the UK to sick leave caused by mental health issues in 2015, an increase of 25 percent on 2014.

Recent research from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has found that mental health problems, including stress, depression and anxiety, are the leading cause of workplace absence in the UK, after minor illnesses.

The data, which studied sickness absence in the UK from 2013 to 2015 inclusively, also found that musculoskeletal, neck and back pain were top factors in employee absence amongst large corporates and small businesses.

Top reasons for sickness absence in the UK (2015), based on estimated number of sickness days taken (in millions)*:

  1. Stress, depression and anxiety – 17.0
  2. Musculoskeletal problems – 13.8
  3. Neck and upper limb problems - 9.4
  4. Back pain - 9.2
  5. Gastrointestinal problems - 9.1
  6. Respiratory conditions - 5.5
  7. Eye, ear, nose and mouth/dental problems - 4.4
  8. Heart, blood pressure, circulations problems - 4.0
  9. Genito-urinary problems - 3.8
  10. Headaches and migraines - 2.9

Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare, who looked into the research, commented, “It’s interesting to see the ONS report and that the number of employees taking leave as a result of stress, depression and anxiety has spiked in the last year. This may seem like ‘bad news’  but we should also take note of how many individuals feel more comfortable reporting mental health problems, which was once seen as a taboo illness to admit to.”

“However, there are still many unreported cases in UK workplaces, so we estimate the actual number of sickness days taken is sadly much higher than the ONS is reporting. Also we must remember that all of the other reasons for sickness absence on the list could have a psychological component that exacerbates or causes the symptoms experienced.”

“Our own recent research has shown that 29 per cent of employees were too embarrassed to speak about these issues with their employers, concerned about how it could impact their career prospects. We also found that managers are uncomfortable discussing mental health with their employees, more so than any physical health concern.”

“Looking after the physical and psychological health of employees should be of paramount importance to employers, and the benefits are significant. Fit and happy employees with good jobs will be more engaged, their effort and creativity is likely to be higher and they are less likely to have accidents. Employers don’t have to take on huge costly health programmes to help manage mental ill health – simple, small steps can be very effective.”

“Employees should feel encouraged to have conversations about their mental wellbeing with their managers. Offering reassurance that they can talk to their manager about their concerns (and evidencing this through positive, supportive behaviour) will help to tackle the stigma that exists around mental ill health. This openness should be delivered from the top down, with everyone in the office displaying this attitude, creating an inclusive culture.”

“Stress management training can also be helpful, especially for employees whose work puts them into potentially stressful situations such as dealing with customer complaints or working to tight deadlines. Not only can this help them to deal more effectively with pressure, it can also help them to spot signs that colleagues in a similar situation might need support.

“Good employers understand that it’s in their interest to create a work environment where employees know they can be open and honest with their manager without fear of being judged or disadvantaged. Equally, managers need to be properly trained and supported so they are truly empowered to have conversations with their employees about how they really are. Otherwise, simply no progress will be made.”

Read the October 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine. 

Follow @BizReviewEurope

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