Workplace absence caused by stress and mental health conditions continues to increase in the UK.
Analysis from FirstCare reveals the number of days lost per employee to these issues has risen year-on-year since 2009.
A recent survey from MetLife has lifted the lid on the extent of the problem in the City, revealing that 40 per cent of senior executives in financial institutions think their job is extremely stressful.
This will come as no surprise to many – long hours and high pressure are often seen as part of the territory with many jobs now, particularly in finance.
Yet we might now be approaching a tipping point, with many employees feeling they are being pushed too far.
A staggering two-thirds of respondents to the Metlife survey also said they would consider resigning in the next year if their stress levels do not improve.
But they are likely to be far less honest about their mental health with employers, meaning that it is also a problem that remains widely under-reported.
We need to deal with this better. Stress not only carries a huge personal cost for people, but it has a high business cost attached. If organisations take steps to intervene and address this issue early and effectively it can have huge benefits – teams are less likely to be absent and staff turnover is lower.
It also helps make organisations more attractive places to work, retaining skilled staff for the long term.
Many organisations are starting to respond to this issue through employee wellness programmes or employee assistance programmes, recognising the huge impact stress has on people and business.
However, it is not as simple as putting support structures in place. Employees need to be informed and engaged with the support out there, and confident and comfortable about asking for and receiving help.
This starts with hardwiring a culture of openness within organisations, to ensure stress and mental health issues are not seen as a stigma, but treated in the same way as other health conditions. This needs to be driven from the top to be truly effective, with a range of ambassadors throughout organisations.
For example, identifying mental health champions and mental health first aiders can encourage an open dialogue around mental health and provide a gateway for practical support.
Helping employees to build resilience is also fundamental. Techniques such as resilience training give people the tools and strength to tackle problems head on.
It does not eliminate stress or erase life’s difficulties. Instead, it gives people the skills to overcome challenging situations, such as problem solving or building strong support networks. As well as this, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and support groups can also help.
A proactive response from business helps to protect people from the harmful effect of stress and reduce the duration and associated costs of long-term sickness absence.
Research from the Cebr conducted in 2015 shows early intervention services like this are proven to reduce the average length of absence by 18 per cent for those with mental health conditions.
We are still a long way from building a workplace culture where mental health is not a taboo. Business leaders now need to recognise the strategic importance of changing this culture in order to future-proof their organisation.