16 May 2023

Recording sickness absence is key to tackling growing mental health issues

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (15-21 May)[i] is ‘anxiety’, a common mental health disorder which is on the rise[ii], but which employers could do more to tackle by tracking sick leave says Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director at Activ People HR


A recent study from AXA UK and the Centre for Business and Economic Research (Cebr)[iii], suggests that too many UK workers are ‘running on empty’, with burnout, mental ill health and work-related stress now costing the economy £28bn a year, and 23.3 million lost working days for businesses.


However, many companies are failing to track sick leave, which Adrian Lewis says is a mistake. Without this insight employers can be completely unaware someone is suffering with poor mental health and therefore unable to offer support to prevent issues escalating into more serious conditions.


New research by Group Risk Development (Grid) found that sickness absence recording by employers hit its lowest level in three years in January 2023 (80%), and that while a fifth (20%) of employers did not record sickness absence, twice that amount (41%) did not record the impact of sickness absence. Both the recording of sickness incidences and impacts dropped compared with the past three years, which Grid say may be due to the rise of hybrid working, making it increasingly difficult for employers to record this data; as absence has become less visible. This may have also led some employers to stop collating the figures.


Adrian says, “Poor mental health is a growing problem, but something employers could help tackle if they spotted the early signs. Unfortunately, many are in the dark about what is happening in their workforce because they don’t track sick leave. Whilst this can be harder to do if people are working hybrid, cloud-based HR tech such as absence management software can simplify this process and ensure it’s always tracked.


“No matter where people are based, they can access the system and record days off sick. This enables employers to see patterns in behaviour over time which could indicate something is going on with that employee. But, more importantly, it prompts back to work interviews, either face to face or remotely, which is an opportunity for a manager to have a confidential conversation with an employee. This is a safe space for someone to speak up about any issues they are facing and the chance for the manager to offer support if needed.


“This could be advice for managing their workload or looking at ways to improve work life balance, which could help to reduce anxiety and stress. Or if it’s felt appropriate employees could be directed to support such as accessing counselling services through an employee assistance programme or other support services that may be available.


“Spotting the signs of anxiety and stress are key in preventing things progressing to something more serious such as burnout and depression. In Mental Health Awareness week, we encourage employers to check they are recording sickness absence effectively and are doing as much as they can to look after the mental wellbeing of their workforce.”


For more information on Activ People HR visit: www.activpeoplehr.co.uk.

[i] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/public-engagement/mental-health-awareness-week

[ii] https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/nhs-delivery-and-workforce/pressures/mental-health-pressures-data-analysis

[iii] https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/burnout-stress-and-mental-ill-health-running-rampant-in-uk/