Coping with absenteeism caused by stress, anxiety and depression

A report released in December 2021 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that stress, anxiety and depression accounted for more than half of all work-related sick leave in 2020/21.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, the report shows that the rate of self-reported work-related illnesses was largely unchanged. However, rates of self-reported stress, anxiety, and depression were already showing signs of increasing. Before the pandemic, the main causes were workload, lack of support, violence, threats, bullying and changes in the workplace.

In 2020/21, the report shows that there were 850,000 new cases of work-related illness, of which 451,000 were related to stress, depression or anxiety.

In addition, 645,000 workers reported suffering from a work-related illness caused or aggravated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 70% of that number was related to stress, depression or anxiety, with women aged 25-34 being the most likely to give this reason for being absent.

The report’s findings were attributed to the unprecedented pressure on workers’ mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With this in mind, what steps can employers take to address work-related stress, anxiety and depression and protect the mental health of their workforce?

How can employers help?

Employers must do everything in their power to support the health, safety and well-being of their employees in the workplace, which includes mental health. Employers have several options for doing this:

  • Have open conversations: Talk openly about mental health, as issues are less likely to accumulate when employees feel they can speak openly about them.
  • Create a supportive environment: Ensure the workplace is a supportive environment where mental and physical health are treated with equal importance. Make sure employees have regular one-on-one meetings with managers to discuss any issues.
  • Mental health awareness: Raise awareness of the importance of mental health by organizing mental health awareness training sessions or appointing mental health “champions” or “first responders” to whom employees can turn for any issues that arise.
  • Promote positive mental health: Promote well-being in the workplace by creating ways for employees to connect, stay active and unwind, such as For example, setting up a lunchtime mindfulness class or a running club in the workplace.
  • Get to the bottom of the causes of stress at work: Encourage employees to adopt a healthy work-life balance, establish clear boundaries between work and personal life, and ask for help when struggling with their workload.

Creating an open, supportive workplace that promotes and demonstrates positive mental health is an important step in addressing rising levels of stress, anxiety and depression among workers, to reduce sick leave, reduce staff turnover and boost employee morale in the workplace improve workforce.

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