The Centre for Mental Health has estimated that mental ill health costs the economy £26bn through lost production, sick pay and NHS treatment, as well as the personal and financial costs that result from being out of work.
A major concern for many employers is managing sickness absence and the associated costs. Increasing numbers of employees are taking sick leave related to mental ill health with depression and anxiety problems and this is becoming one of the most difficult areas of staff retention for many employers. These problems are also causing what is now termed ‘presenteeism’ where people try to work but are unwell and therefore less productive.
Adopting strategies for staff retention and supporting absent employees to return work can save the costs of sick pay, employing agency/temporary staff, recruiting and retraining new staff. Early intervention is probably the most successful strategy to consider managing absence. Many employers are still afraid of approaching the absent employee for fear of being accused of using the ‘stick’ approach to get the employee back to work. The employer should be seen as a caring employer, interested in the welfare of employees and prepared to make flexible arrangements or adjustments to enable a return to work.
Supported employment agencies can provide support by acting as an intermediary to both parties to encourage a return to work that meets both party's needs.
Managing staff sickness and absence is a priority for all organisations. In cases of long term absence particularly where the organisations operate a company sick pay policy it can be very expensive in terms of paying full pay for the agreed period (usually six months). There can also be an additional financial burden where agency staff is engaged to cover for absence. Consideration should be given to the risk involved by unduly increasing the workload of other staff members and causing further absences due to the possible effect of stress as a result of additional responsibilities and duties.
More recently employers are recognising the business case for introducing a range of good practice measures aimed at creating healthy workplaces and managing the health and well being of their workforce. These measures include introducing flexible working practices, balancing home and work responsibilities in a way that meets the needs of the employer and the employee, for example, introducing flexible working hours and shift patterns. Some organisations are providing the opportunity for working from home and promoting healthy lifestyles around the individual’s general health, by offering positive occupational health advice and guidance on diet and fitness.
Identifying and managing stress in the workplace
It is true that prevention is better than cure. The caring employer can often avoid unnecessary sickness and absence by ensuring that they conduct regular staff support sessions with the emphasis on supporting the individual and identifying any areas of concern that they may have with their job or changes in their personal circumstances that they are willing to share and discuss. Sometimes staff members are afraid to ask for any consideration for changing their routine of work for the fear of refusal. People can acquire disabilities during their working life and it may be necessary to make adjustments for the employee to continue to do their job, or in some cases redeployment may have to be considered.
There can often be a reluctance to declare an acquired disability due to a fear that because of the disability they may be unable to do the job. Line managers share a responsibility to manage the well being of their staff, early warning signs can be an indication that the staff member may require some support. Some examples include a reduction in productivity, change in mood, concentration, general behaviour or unusual patterns of attendance. Early intervention and prevention can avoid long periods of absence, support staff retention and avoid discrimination.
See our resources page for links to guidance on reducing staff turnover.