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Why National Sickie Day is an opportunity for businesses to step up mental health support

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash.

Research tells us that more ‘sickies’ are likely to be pulled today (Monday 7th February), commonly known as ‘National Sickie Day,’ than any time of the year.

While people are typically more ill during the winter months, Adrian Lewis, Director at Activ People HR says employers should be vigilant and monitor whether sickies are signs of more serious employee mental health issues, as this is a growing concern for businesses.

Mental health was the number one reason for sickness absence last year, ahead of even Covid-19.  Research from GoodShape’s UK PLC 2021 Workforce Health Report, highlighted that absences from mental health accounted for almost a fifth (19%) of all lost working time in the UK, compared to 16% of absences from Covid-19 related sickness.

The cost of mental health absences is also soaring, with a report from Westfield Health highlighting that the impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns and other restrictions on the nation’s mental health cost UK businesses £14bn in 2020. But Lewis believes National Sickie Day is a chance for employers to step up their support for employee wellbeing.

He says, “The pressures of the pandemic including remote working, home schooling, money and health anxieties will have contributed to rising mental health absences, but as many of us are starting to return to the office, there is a real window of opportunity for employers to increase their support for mental health.”

He believes there are simple and cost-effective changes companies can introduce to better support mental health, which will have a positive impact on employees and on productivity.

Monitor and record absences – Monitoring absences using absence management technology will give a business clear and transparent record of all their absence data in one place. This way important metrics can be monitored including sickness rates, the amount of time lost and the cost of absences. It can also provide insights into patterns and trends, which will help managers better understand who if there are employees who might be suffering from poor mental health.

Talk about mental health – Talking about mental health needs to be normalised to dispel any stigmas.  Encourage leaders and staff to have conservations about mental health and promote an open culture where people feel able to talk to their manager about any concerns.

Appoint Mental Health First Aiders – Having people in the organisation who are trained to support colleagues and to promote mental health awareness could help to break down any stigmas around mental health.

Always do return to work interviews – Absence management software prompts return to work interviews when people are off sick. This can give someone a safe space to discuss any issues and for managers to spot any red flags or areas of concerns. These are vital for picking up early signs something is wrong.

Signpost support – Many companies have access to counselling services or other mental health support through their EAPs. Often employees don’t know these exist, so make sure you remind them. Companies could also signpost other organisations where employees could get help such as the charity Mind and the NHS.

Encourage staff to have a good work/life balance – Led from the top, companies should encourage people to have a good work/life balance. This could involve allowing them to take regular breaks and time out for exercise or mindfulness during the day. They could also consider more formal wellbeing initiatives such as webinars on financial wellbeing or sleep management. Investing in wellbeing will make a difference to how people feel and demonstrate that their company really cares about their health and wellbeing.

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