Survey by British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) and Aviva finds nearly a third of businesses have witnessed increased absence due to mental health
Almost 30% of businesses have seen an increase in the number of staff taking time off due to mental illness, a survey by BCC and Aviva has revealed, suggesting that the issue of mental health is becoming less of a taboo topic for employers and employees.
The survey of over 1,000 business leaders across the UK also found that 33% of them have noticed an increase in the length of time that staff are taking off due to mental health issues.
The findings indicate that employers are doing more to support staff with mental health issues, including reviewing individual workloads (36%), flexible working options (35%), counselling for staff (20%) and training managers to better support staff (18%).
However, the survey also revealed that much more could be done. Nearly half (49%) said they did not access occupational health support for their staff from external bodies and 10% said they were not aware of any available support.
"As the world of work changes, it is absolutely crucial for business leaders to pay ever closer attention to the health and wellbeing of their employees - especially at a time when firms are facing severe challenges finding and retaining the skilled staff they need," said Adam Marshall, BCC director general.
He added that it is important not to turn a "blind eye to the issue". "Our message today is that it is no longer acceptable for firms to ignore mental health in the workplace, and all companies need to step up their game," he said.
Dr Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva, meanwhile, said while he was encouraged by flexible working initiatives, the rise in people taking time off for mental health reasons is "worrying".
He said some of this increase may be down to staff feeling more able to discuss the issue of mental health, which is "good news", but it also suggests that "more can be done to help", he said.
"Looking at our claims data for protection insurance we know that mental health conditions are the number one reason for rehabilitation referrals, and that early intervention by experts can bring a huge benefit to employees, helping them make a safe and timely return to work," he added.
Therefore it is important to look at what health and wellbeing initiatives are on offer to staff, he suggested. "Doing so will reap rewards for both employee and employer. We believe in this so much it's something we are doing for our own staff already," Dr Wright said.
Moral and business case
"It is encouraging that more businesses are increasingly aware of how mental health affects their employees," said Poppy Jaman OBE, CEO of City Mental Health Alliance. "We all have mental health, and poor mental health and illness can affect anyone. Like catching a cold, it can happen to any one of us, at any time. But we still have a long way to go before mental health is treated the same way as physical health."
LSE research recently revealed that employees take an extra 4.1 days off during an episode of depression where managers avoid talking to their employees about mental health, Jaman pointed out, therefore making action "a clear moral and business" obligation for firms.
"Businesses need to build on the growing awareness, highlighted by Aviva and BCC, by taking action to change their workplace culture and help managers be more mental health literate," she said. "Training and development for managers, such as mental health first aid training, will reduce fear of having difficult conversations with colleagues and will foster a more supportive working environment."
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