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Mental health absences cost businesses £14bn in 2020

The cost of staff taking time off for mental health issues totalled £14 billion last year, new data suggests.

Revealed in a study by Westfield Health, the figures highlight the psychological toll the pandemic has had on workers, who have been forced to adjust to new work environments, see their colleagues less, and potentially deal with furlough.

The vast sum accounts for a 10% increase in mental health absences since 2019, which led to £1.3 billion in additional losses.

In response, 81% of businesses included in the study said they had increased mental health support for employees, with 34% having already spent more on employee wellbeing.

Over a third of companies plan to increase wellbeing spending in 2021 and over half intend to increase spending over the next five years.

Despite the efforts of employers though, around 76% of workers feel their productivity has suffered, and 12% still do not feel supported enough.

Concerns over job security is also high, affecting over 1 in 5 workers.

“As we know, Covid-19 is having a huge impact on employees’ mental health, the scars from which may not be visible, let alone heal, for many years and have arguably changed our connection to work and colleagues permanently," says Westfield Health chief executive, Dave Capper.

“However, the way businesses have and are responding to this challenge gives us hope, as when we come out the other side of this pandemic, there will be a long-term commitment to support employees’ mental and physical wellbeing.”

Westfield Health's report into the economic impact of the pandemic coincides with another from the Health and Safety Executive.

The research, which included more than 12,000 people from 11 countries, showed that 51% of all work absences and 55% of all working days lost were due to stress, depression or anxiety.

In the same report, around 3 in 4 respondents thought their employer should do more to support the mental health of workers.

UK businesses are however recognising the need for better wellbeing support for employees, says MD of O.C. Tanner Europe, Robert Ordever, with a shift toward more meaningful initiatives.

“Organisations that used to provide transient perks are now recognising that more meaningful support is now needed, with 2021 being about providing genuine and tailored rewards," says Ordever.

"This might include home office equipment and furniture, a mental health support line or new flexible working arrangements.”


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