Sectors that pivoted from normal work environments in the pandemic see highest rise in mental health absences

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Lizzie Buxton

15th March 2022

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New data from AdviserPlus Analytics Team reveals that, on average, 37% of hours lost to sickness absence are due to mental health related causes – up from 28% before the pandemic.

The data also shows that increases in recorded mental health absence are noticeable across all sectors, but growth is less when the working environment remains similar to pre-pandemic days.

Data from 250,000 employees across four sectors – retail, financial, utilities and health – was analysed. It shows that increases in mental health absences were far higher in the financial services sector, which made a wholesale change to home working. The sector saw a 72% increase in the percentage of mental health absences recorded from the year before. Retail and health sectors both saw an increase of 17% in the last year, while utilities saw an increase of 25%.

Sectors that pivoted from normal working environments are most affected

Richard Little, Analytics Team Manager, AdviserPlus, said:  “Regardless of sector, mental health absence has increased as a percentage of total sickness absence. However, the data suggests that those who have working environments closer to pre-pandemic times have been less affected. Within the finance sector, for example, where employees went from office work to home working, we’re seeing far higher levels of reported mental health absences.

“In many ways, working from home has been positive. But there are feelings of isolation and disconnection that can negatively impact workers who are not used to or enabled to work effectively when remote.

“Vitally, while there is a perception – and some truth – in the fact that employees are less likely to call in sick while working from home, this is perhaps less true for mental health-related illnesses. In many cases, struggles with mental health can be psychologically harder to push through, or ‘get on with’ so employees may find it more difficult to commit to their work in a continually isolated setting.”

Jane Grundy, Technical HR Consultant, AdviserPlus, added: “Businesses must think carefully about how they tackle mental health absences and monitor how working arrangements are affecting employees. From the business perspective, the costs associated with this increase in mental health absence are significant. We are seeing lost productivity representing up to 1% of their annual wage bill.

“For employee health, businesses also have important decisions to make. For instance, if more employees are putting in flexible working requests as they’re asked to return to the office, employers will need to consider whether working from home is best for an employee’s mental health. Organisations need to think carefully about how to create the right working environment for their employees.

5 tips to help managers tackle mental health issues

  1. Establishing boundaries between home and work time
  2. Having regular one-to-ones to help spot changes in behaviour or body language
  3. Signposting people to employee assistance programmes when relevant
  4. Setting an example and make wellbeing your own priority, so employees can follow
  5. Encouraging flexibility in workplace days, so employees can interact with different team members

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