The cost to employers of absenteeism, presenteeism and people leaving or moving jobs because of mental ill health has increased by a quarter since the start of the pandemic, research has suggested.
A report by consultancy Deloitte has argued the estimated total cost of absenteeism, presenteeism and labour turnover has increased by 25% since 2019, to between £53bn and £56bn in 2020-2021. Of this, £43bn to £46bn was for the private sector and £10bn for the public sector.
The research, Mental health and employers: The case for investment – pandemic and beyond, polled 3,599 individuals between September and October 2021. It follows on from similar reports by Deloitte going back to 2017.
The latest study has concluded there has been a general deterioration in mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic, but things have improved since November 2020 to January 2021, which was the worst period for mental and emotional health. But, generally, mental health is still lower than it was pre pandemic.
The largest cost to employers was presenteeism. But the overall increase in costs could be more attributed to higher turnover of people leaving roles, Deloitte argued. More respondents said they had left their job in the previous year or intended to do so in the next 12 months for mental health or wellbeing reasons.
“Employers can invest in providing support to improve the mental wellbeing of employees through measures such as screening, training, promoting general awareness of mental health issues, and targeted interventions or personal therapy. Our model has found that the average return for employers from such measures is £5.3 for every £1 invested,” the report suggested.
Mental health and work
Employers should also be focusing on or targeting employee demographics that were likely to be especially vulnerable, including younger workers (aged 18-29), employees with caring responsibilities outside of work (especially unpaid caring), key workers and ethnic minorities.
As the report argued in the context of key workers: “Key workers have been under greater pressure than non-key workers, due to being at the forefront of the national responses to the pandemic, greater workloads and greater risks of infection.
“Our survey also found that key workers had experienced symptoms of burnout more than non-key workers. Although there has not been any significant difference of absenteeism between key workers and non-key workers, turnover and presenteeism have been higher among key workers.”
Burnout was also becoming an increasing problem, Deloitte highlighted. When asked whether they had felt supported by employers between September 2020 and August 2021, slightly more than half of the respondents (52%) said not. Almost a third added that they would like more support from their employer.
More than a third (36%) said they had in the past year used tools to manage their mental health. “There is growing use of digital tools (apps) and services to support mental health, alongside widely used corporate employee assistance programmes,” the report highlighted.
Among a range of recommendations, the report called for employers to work to shift their organisational culture, although Deloitte accepted this was something that was unlikely to happen overnight.
“The workplace culture and job design should give employees the time and space to take care of their mental health and feel able, without fear of stigma, to express their concerns and worries,” it recommended.
“Support from employers cannot be a one-off exercise. Organisations should continue to educate all employees, and managers in particular, to understand their own mental health and spot the signs of poor mental health in others. They should also be supportive in helping employees with caring responsibilities for friends or family members,” the report added.
“Employers should recognise the growing use of apps to support mental health and regularly review their use of these tools to support employees. Attitudes of individuals differ and the same interventions will not work for everyone. Employers should consider a portfolio of support measures available for the needs of different employees,” Deloitte also concluded.