From education to employment

Mental health and employers: the case for refreshing investment


Health Assured reveal UK employee mental health and wellbeing 2020 research

2020 was a challenging year for many people across the UK. On the 31st January 2020, the first two cases of coronavirus in the UK were confirmed and by 23rd March, the Prime Minister announced a UK-wide lockdown.

Since then life hasn’t been quite the same, and as a result of the pandemic, many individuals have experienced grief, isolation, loss of income and fear which has triggered mental health conditions or exacerbated existing ones.

Many individuals have also faced increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety.

A 2020 (4 Jun) study of the UK public by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI finds that significant numbers have experienced changes to their sleep patterns since the lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020, with nearly two-thirds (63%) overall saying their sleep has been worse.

Considering this, the UK’s leading health and wellbeing provider, Health Assured has analysed data from the over 13 million lives they support via their EAP (employee assistance programme) helpline and found some compelling results.

These insights can help employers prepare for the year ahead and provide some much-needed support to their employees as the pandemic continues:

  • Monday was the most common day of the week to call Health Assured’s EAP helpline.
  • The most popular time to call the helpline was between 10 am – 2 pm.
  • Health Assured received over 3,000 calls regarding coronavirus.
  • Health Assured saw a 36% rise in calls to the counselling helpline for support with anxiety.
  • The age group with the highest usage of the service was from employees aged between 30 to 39.
  • Healthcare was the sector that required the most support, with a 34% increase in the amount of support Health Assured provided, followed by education and government. 

David Price, CEO of Health Assured, comments on the key results:

“Our data from 2020 has given us a real insight into the nation’s mental health and wellbeing. As expected, a high percentage of the calls received by our team of counsellors were regarding coronavirus, which has had a significant impact on our lives and wellbeing.

“The most popular time and day to call our EAP line was on Monday between 10:00 am to 2:00 pm as many individuals called in feeling anxious about the working week ahead and needing support. 

“With many employees feeling stressed as they juggle childcare and work commitments and additional financial stressors, it’s not surprising to see that the age group with the highest service usage was from employee’s age between 30 to 39.

“Throughout 2020, the coronavirus pandemic was an emotional rollercoaster, with rapidly increasing coronavirus cases and constant rumours about incoming restrictions unnerving many individuals. Due to this uncertainty, we saw a significant 36% rise in calls to our counselling helpline for support with anxiety.

“Our research’s key finding was that our clients in the healthcare sector understandably required the most support, with a 34% increase in the amount of support Health Assured provided, followed by the education sector with a 29% increase and government with a 13% increase. Unsurprisingly these industries were at the frontline of the UK’s fight with coronavirus. 

 “To summarise, from Health Assured’s findings, we can see that proper mental health and wellbeing support is essential for a business as it safeguards not only employee’s health and wellbeing but also their business.

“With the pandemic still causing significant disruption in our lives in 2021 and the situation quickly changing it’s best to deal with it one day at a time.”

Methodology: The King’s College study “How the UK is sleeping under lockdown” is based on 2,254 interviews with UK residents aged 16-75, and was carried out online between 20 and 22 May 2020.

Poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year 

Analysis by Deloitte, published last year (22 Jan 2020), found that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year. This is a rise of 16% since 2016 – an extra £6 billion a year.

The research also looks at how employers can tackle this problem, finding that it pays to support employees’ mental health. On average, for every £1 spent on supporting their people’s mental health, employers get £5 back on their investment in reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover.

Analysis from ‘Mental health and employers: the case for refreshing investment’ also looks at how employers can tackle this problem. It shows that higher return on investment can be achieved by early interventions, such as organisation-wide culture change and education, than more in-depth support that may be needed at a later stage when a person is struggling.

Rebecca George OBE, Deloitte Vice Chair and UK Public Sector leader said:

“As our ways of working evolve, so do expectations of employers about how we should support our people.

“This analysis shows very clearly that it pays for employers to provide mental health support at work and that early intervention is vital, for those experiencing poor mental health and employers alike.”

Costs driven largely by ‘presenteeism’

The latest research builds on work conducted by Deloitte in 2017 for the Stevenson-Farmer Review on workplace mental health, which calculated that poor mental health cost UK employers £33-42 billion a year.

Since then, Deloitte has found that there have been positive changes in workplaces, including greater openness in discussing mental health at work in larger employers in particular and more provision of support overall.

However, research also finds that despite this progress, costs continue to climb. This can be attributed largely to a significant rise in mental-health-related ‘presenteeism’, where employees work when they are not at their most productive. Mental-health related absenteeism and staff turnover have also contributed to the costs overall.

‘Always-on’ culture impacts mental health

The analysis describes a complex picture, in which more people with poor mental health are continuing to work when they are not at their most productive, rather than take time off, highlighting leaveism and presenteeism as characteristics of an ‘always-on’ culture, enabled by technology.

Elizabeth Hampson, Deloitte director and author of ‘Mental health and employers: the case for refreshing investment’, said:

“Understanding more about the relationship between mental health and work is in all of our interests.

“Our research finds that, while an increased use of technology can enhance working practices, having the ability to work outside of normal working hours can add to the challenge of maintaining good mental health, and make it hard for some to disconnect from an ‘always-on’ culture.

“The costs of this are significant, for those with poor mental health and for UK employers, and we hope this analysis can help both.”

Young people – the most vulnerable demographic in the workplace

The report also highlights recent studies which find higher prevalence of mental health problems among younger people, who emerge as the most vulnerable demographic in the workplace to poor mental health.

It finds that employers lose the equivalent of 8.3% of the salaries of those aged 18-29 as a result of poor mental health – the highest of any employee age group. Young people are also less likely to disclose mental health problems to employers and more likely to use their holiday instead of taking days off work*.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“Smart, forward-thinking employers are investing in staff wellbeing, and those who do tend to save money in the long run. This report shows the link between prioritising staff wellbeing and improved loyalty and productivity; and decreased sickness absence and resignations. However it also shows a rise in ‘presenteeism’ – unwell staff spending unproductive hours at work rather than taking time off.

“As presenteeism costs three times more than sick leave, we need to look at supporting employers to change the culture so their staff feel able to take time off when they are unwell. The Government must also play their part by improving the definition of disability under the Equality Act, so more people with mental health problems can benefit from its rights and protections, as well as increasing the amount of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) staff receive when they’re off sick. Employers can access resources to help prevent poor mental health and promote wellbeing through the Mental Health at Work Commitment.”

Methodology: Deloitte’s analysis looks at the differences between sectors and industry groups, by region and by age group.

In order to calculate the costs of poor employee mental health, a range of costs were considered:

  • Absence from work;
  • Presenteesim;
  • Staff turnover and associated costs.

The report calculates that poor mental health costs UK employers at £42 – 45 billion a year, compared to £33 – £42 billion in 2017 – the 16% rise is calculated from the mid-point between the two.

ROI (return on investment) figures are based on a systematic review of 125 reports about mental health interventions and calculated by the net return (benefits minus costs) divided by costs incurred by the organisation. Insight on young people is based on data provided by Mind and Vitality.

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