Mental health absences cost UK businesses £14bn in 2020, study suggests

Simon Neville, PA City Editor

Workers forced to take time off sick due to the mental health crisis during the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions cost UK businesses £14 billion last year, according to a new study.

There was a 10% increase in absences due to mental health and it cost employers £1.3 billion more in lost business compared with 2019, Westfield Health found in a survey of staff and companies.

Bosses said they have subsequently increased support and provisions to maintain good mental health among staff, with 81% saying there is a renewed focus on the issue.

Mental health concerns have shot up the agenda for companies during the pandemic as staff are forced to stay home, and face furlough, pay cuts and travel restrictions.

Employees were forced to take 3.19 days off sick with mental health-related issues in 2020 – up from 2.9 days on average in 2019.

In addition to absenteeism, the research found that one in three employees feel their productivity when they are working has been negatively hit every week due to mental health problems.

Around 76% said they feel their productivity has stagnated or fallen since last year, increasing costs to businesses.

Dave Capper, Westfield Health chief executive, said: “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.

“The findings from our research paint a worrying picture for workplace productivity, with the economic impact of mental health clearly deepening.

“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.”

The research also found that more than one in five employees are concerned about losing their job and 26% are becoming increasingly anxious about work.

A further 12% of workers said they believe they are not being supported by their company as they struggle to come to terms with having to adopt new ways of working and adhere to social distancing regulations in the workplace.

Loneliness, low morale and less engagement have also hit the UK workforce, the survey said.

But companies appear to be responding to the growing challenge, with a 34% increase in spending on wellbeing, Westfield Health said.

More than a third of companies said they plan to increase spending this year and more than half said they intend to grow spending on wellbeing in the next five.

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