The CBI says sickness absence is a bigger threat to the UK economy in the 21st century than terrorism.
The average cost of sickness absence in the UK in 2015 was £16 billion, 2.8% of working time, 6.5 days lost per employee. Aside from the moral arguments the drivers for investing in mental health support are financial and all about productivity. Doing nothing is not an option.
Sickness absence costs an extraordinary amount of money. It costs talent. It increases temp costs, recruitment costs, training costs, costs, costs, costs.
And then there’s the cost to PHI insurers which is soaring. The financial impact is significant. It makes sound financial sense to take steps to prevent and avoid it by investing in measures to curtail or eliminate absence.
Mental ill health and musculoskeletal disorders are the leading causes of absence. They can to a very great extent be avoided. Enlightened companies have wellbeing programmes that have drastically reduced absence and are impacting on the incidence of mental health in the workplace.
Employees will show up for work if they are valued and looked after. The cost of such measures is less than the cost of absence. It’s a no-brainer
The Royal Mail led a charge on well-being with its provision of health screening and physiotherapy for employees between 2004 and 2007 and cut absence by more than a quarter.
The Royal Mail continues to provide assistance around mental wellbeing through initiatives to raise awareness of common mental health disorders including encouraging openness (particularly among men) around mental illness.
The business is reaping the benefits of its investment in terms of gained productivity, reduced absence and increased engagement from staff.
Employees will show up for work if they are valued and looked after. The cost of such measures is less than the cost of absence. It’s a no-brainer.
Santander’s Positive about Mental Health programme led by Dave Moore aims to help staff with mental illness and recognises that there is a business benefit (increased engagement, increased attendance, reduced cost of absence) in as far as possible keeping its workforce mentally healthy. As well as an EAP programme, Santander gives its staff access to counselling.
Met Life’s Resilience programme acknowledges the impact stress has on productivity and identifies practical steps to minimise stress which can lead to mental illness. Steps include access to Employee Assistance Programmes and workplace medical advice, paid or subsidised access to gyms.
Other measures include conducting a stress audit, eliminating workplace behaviours that cause mental illness (bullying by line managers being the most critical), and resilience training. The cost of these measures is a drop in the ocean when compared to the cost of absence.
Proper management of employee mental health leads to improved attendance, decreased costs, increased productivity and it costs less than absence. Another serious issue lurking which investment in wellbeing can address is presenteeism which is notoriously hard to measure: it cuts productivity by up to 30 per cent.
The most sound business decision businesses can make is to address staff wellbeing. In 21st century Corporate UK this means proactive measures. It also reduces risk.
Karen Jackson is director at didlaw