50% of all absenteeism at work relates to mental health challenges (Guest Blog – Matthew Holman)
But, you already knew that right? Do you know the impact of mental illnesses in your workplace? It is unlikely that you really see what is happening.
This statistic of 50% from the Health and Safety Executive , provides a harsh reality of the gap between what we believe to be the truth, and the facts of reality. Now is the time to really start to build better systems and support to truly bridge the knowledge gap.
The impact of poor mental health at work is real, It is estimated that mental health problems cost the UK economy £117.9 billion annually. Thriving at Work: The Stevenson-Farmer review of mental health and employers highlighted the significant costs to employers of mental health illness.
In March 2022, Deloitte published updates to this analysis, finding costs to employers amounting to £56 billion a year. This is made up of:
- absenteeism cost: £6.1 billion
- presenteeism cost: £24.8 billion to £27.6 billion
- staff turnover: £22.4 billion
From a personal perspective, I unintentionally entered the world of Mental Health Advocacy in 2016. I had been working in large global corporate roles for over 20 years, acquiring many different skills across business. I left the corporate world at a point I was struggling with my mental health (I didn’t realise it at the time), I had an employer who made quick decisions about keeping or letting people go. I never took a day off sick with a physical illness for 7 years. But I struggled a lot with internal mental sickness, I didn’t really understand, and more importantly, nobody ever stepped in or asked me if I was taking care of myself properly. In 2016 very few people possessed the skills or tools to support those who were struggling in silence.
For me this moment of impact and change in 2016 was the reset that I truly needed to happen, these are my drivers and passion to helping others. I don’t want anyone to experience the shame, worthlessness and hopeless feelings that I felt at my lowest point.
I have taken a lot of time over these past years to reflect on how, and where things could have been handled differently. What stood out was a distinct lack of the following:
1) Awareness of mental health in the workplace – most people and companies still have no formal understanding of what it is, and the challenges that we all experience
2) Education or training available to help leaders, managers and all employees develop the key skills of listening, empathy and compassion to support each other through challenges
3) Support if people are struggling and knowing what is available to encourage those who need help to make the change to help themselves.
If you look at the statistics across society, workplace mental health challenges are increasing with 1 in 6  employees currently experiencing a mental illness. A recent Indeed Survey  identified that 52% of 14,000 respondents are currently feeling burned out. We are still not seeing the true reality of the problem, and many are ignoring the significant warning signs.
The challenges are heightened when we recognise that across workplaces there is slow uptake in companies capturing data around mental health challenges. Currently through the edays absenteeism system only 12.1% of companies are recording mental health challenges in their data as a reason for sickness. This offers opportunities for companies to implement new processes, systems and support.
Other notable highlights from current data show the following:
- The average duration for a mental health absence is 16.3 days (the average days off across all illnesses and all clients is 3.0 days) at the Average cost of absence being approximately £150 per day , this equates to a total cost of mental health absenteeism around £2,445 per person.
- 24.4% of those who struggle with a mental health issue are likely to need additional time off in the 12 months following the original absence
Whilst capturing accurate and honest data will be the key to providing better service and support to those who are struggling in the future, it is important to also understand why take up of any robust measurements is currently lacking. Again, this comes back to the model of Awareness, Education and Support.
Every group in the conversation has their own perspective, consider all aspects from all dimensions, and the potential conflicts that exist today as barriers. Examples outlined below;
- Employee – Can I be honest with my manager about what is really happening to me, will being honest hinder my progress in the future, or will I potentially lose my employment?
- Employer / Manager – We have work to be done, we have targets to hit and KPI’s to achieve, we don’t have time to carry sickness in a team that is already under pressure. We need to have fully functioning teams.
- Company / Culture – We want to grow, to provide our shareholders and key stakeholders with confidence in our returns. We expect everyone to work until the objectives have been achieved, no matter what.
There are many opportunities to improve mental health in the workplace. This cannot be done by isolating one of the groups above, we need a combined effort, raising confidence, support and openness to the conversations of mental health. When we create this environment, we will be able to provide accurate absenteeism data to the business to aid decision-making in the future.
About the Author
Matthew Holman is a mental health and wellbeing consultant, working with organisations through his company Simpila Mental Health, to improve conversations of mental health across the workplace and society. Matthew is a business owner, podcast host, Samaritan, Husband and father of 2 daughters.
 Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2021 https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf
 Mental Health Foundation
 Based upon a £33,000 average cost of an employee working 220 days per annum, the cost per day equivalent is: £150 per day.
Free Webinar: Mental Health, Leave & Absence: How to connect to the challenges with Matt Holman
Date: 7th October