60 percent of workers leave their job after two mental health absences

New figures on World Mental Health Day show employers need better wellbeing strategies.

NB: this article was written before FirstCare rebranded to GoodShape on 30.10.21

The cost of mental ill health to society is growing. The OECD estimates that mental health workplace absence and decreased productivity costs the UK over £94bn each year¹ - roughly four per cent of GDP.

The numbers are startling, but how do they affect businesses at a grass roots level?

New figures released by FirstCare for World Mental Health Day show that 60% of workers who report two mental health absences will leave their job before being absent for a third time. In many cases each absence occurs within a matter of weeks, leaving employers little time to support and retain staff.

FirstCare data also shows that mental health absence is on the rise, recording a 65% increase since 2009 and growing year on year. The NHS is by far the worst affected sector, accounting for 40% of mental health absences across our client base. While many NHS Trusts are getting to grips with the problem, other sectors are seeing a worrying rise. The finance and insurance industries have seen a 69% increase since 2009.

Mental health awareness has never been higher on the public agenda, but it’s clear that more can be done. With the average cost of replacing an employee estimated to be at least £30k² the financial imperative is clear. The human one is even stronger. Supporting staff is simply the right thing to do.

What steps then should employers take to identify mental health problems in the workplace and prevent issues from escalating?

Making mental health a strategic business priority is vital. That’s what we do at FirstCare.

Our absence management service empowers organisations to spot the early signs of mental ill health, combining data with nurse-led care to support staff and reduce overall absence. FirstCare reduces the number of days lost to mental health absence by 23% over three years of service.

We work in partnership with employers, producing business-wide insights that help leaders be alert to absence trends, and put steps in place to mitigate them. We also provide employees with access to personal medical advice and support through our unique nurse-led triage service which is a first point of contact for staff calling in sick.

This professional medical triage ensures that mental health absences are identified, even when they present as physical issues. In a recent case, FirstCare nurses were able to recognise that a caller suffering from muscular pain had underlying mental health issues. Their swift action ensured the man received the right support and treatment, while ensuring that the employer discharged their duty of care.

On a macro level, our service also delivers business-wide change. Our absence insights provide the impetus for many employee wellbeing initiatives. We’re proud to help businesses improve their mental health provisions and truly support their people.

Our work with Co-op provides a great example of how holistic absence management can support wellbeing and build a framework to safeguard employee mental health. In 2017, Co-op sought the support of FirstCare, initially giving 2,000 staff members access to our absence support services. Before working with FirstCare, Co-op’s annual sick pay cost was £40million, while the cause of 30% of staff absences was unknown. The findings revealed that many of these absences were mental health related and potentially caused by financial difficulties.

Co-op used these results to re-design a more proactive wellbeing strategy which prioritises mental health and gives employees access to wide ranging support. Co-op have also revamped their reward budget, introducing a range of financial benefits to tackle this key cause of mental health absence. Speaking recently, Co-op’s People Director Gary Dewin advised employers to “think about how the reward budget can be repurposed in a non-traditional way” to retain staff and support employee wellbeing.

It’s important to point out that mental health absence isn’t always work-related. FirstCare data suggests that just 10% of such absences are caused by workplace stress. As the Co-op pilot proves, businesses must understand the root causes to make real impact.

Acknowledging the varying pressures which staff face at each stage of their working life can help. While mortgage worries might score highly for younger workers, older employees may be worried about retirement, and there’s growing evidence that this group may well need special attention. Research suggests that older employees tend to wait longer to seek mental health support, putting them at risk of developing more serious problems.

Supporting mental health in the workplace is clearly a challenge – but it needn’t be an insurmountable one. Employers that take a preventative approach by understanding and tackling the causes and managing absence holistically are well placed to help, as FirstCare’s Commercial Director Steve Carter points out:

“Poor mental health rarely impacts overnight. It builds over time, giving employers a vital window to identify difficulties and put measures in place to support staff. Businesses that have a clear absence management and wellbeing strategy can recognise problems before they take hold. A proactive approach to mental health is good for people and good for business.”

1. www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/22/mental-illness-costs-uk-94bn-a-year-oecd-report-says-employment-economy-productivity

2. www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/10657008/Replacing-staff-costs-British-businesses-4bn-each-year.html

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