This year, for the first time ever, mental health issues will be the leading cause of workplace absence in the UK. These issues have more than doubled since 2009 and are set to continue to rise.
It is also affecting 30-40 year olds more than any other age group. With this cohort predicted to be the largest in the UK workforce in ten years' time, this is the iceberg issue that will impact UK productivity and put further strain on the NHS. There are questions of responsibility and what interventions can be most effective.
In December 2016 alone, data from FirstCare showed 4.6 million working days were lost as a result of mental health issues - an increase of 13% in the last year. In contrast, coughs, colds and flu and musculoskeletal injuries have remained broadly constant for the last seven years.
This worrying trend is set against a backdrop of absence continuing to rise year-on-year since 2011, bucking a 20-year trend of decreases. In that time, mental health issues have increased by 71.4% since 2011, with FirstCare predicting that, if the current trend continues, 2017 will be the first year that mental health issues are the most common reason for workplace absence.
In the face of this rise, it is worrying that a question mark still remains over who ultimately has responsibility for the management of metal health in the workplace. Is it the employee themselves? The NHS? The employer? Many organisations still shy away from addressing the issue of mental health in the workplace because of this lack of clarity, but as insufficient funding continues to hamstring the NHS, employers will need to take a more proactive role.
While tackling this might seem like an unwieldy task for business leaders, it is in fact the simple solutions that can have the most widespread impact. Creating a culture of openness around mental health will encourage your staff to approach their manager or a member of the HR team if they have a problem. Providing the proper support for those returning to work after a period of absence is also crucial in helping them get back to peak performance. FirstCare data shows that when Return to Work interviews are correctly completed in a timely fashion, engaging the employee, this can lead to a 35% drop in workplace absence for both physical and mental health conditions.
Failing to address mental health will leave businesses vulnerable. This in turn will damage UK productivity at a time when it must be stronger than ever. The problem is worse than organisations' know but the solutions are more straightforward than you would imagine.