Mental health in the workplace, anxiety, burnout and worries about the rising cost of living have all been firmly in the spotlight during Mental Health Awareness Week this week (from 9-15 May).
The annual awareness-raising week, run by the Mental Health Foundation, this year explored the experience of loneliness during and since the pandemic, its effect on our mental health and how we can all help to reduce loneliness within our communities.
The foundation’s own survey of 6,000 adults found a quarter (25%) admitted to feeling lonely some or all of the time during the previous month, with a similar percentage feeling ashamed as a result.
However, in a work context, the general mental and emotional fallout from the pandemic, the transition to hybrid working, the risk of burnout and, increasingly, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis remain the key concerns when it comes to mental ill health.
Research, for example, by wellbeing and performance firm GoodShape concluded that poor mental health had cost employers £17bn during the pandemic, and had resulted in the loss of 125 million working days over the past two years.
There had been an 8% increase in working days lost to poor mental health during the pandemic, with half (57%) of days taken off being by those who identify as female. Absence for Covid-19 itself cost businesses £18bn, and resulted in the loss of 133 million days off.
Overall, employees took an average of 16 days off work per each mental health-related absence during the pandemic, compared to 18 days pre pandemic.
Mental health and work
The organisation’s data also indicated that 54% of workers who take two or more mental health-related absences will go on to leave their jobs.
Musculoskeletal issues led to the loss of 98 million working days between March 2020 and March 2022, at a cost of £5bn, it added.
The sectors worst affected generally were health and life sciences (which included the NHS, followed by government (including local government and councils), and then manufacturing and engineering, GoodShape added.
Happiness takes a hit
A ‘happiness index’ by insurance broker LifeSearch, meanwhile, has concluded that health, wealth and happiness are all at 10-year lows, with the impact of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine all feeding into general poor mental and emotional health.
Commissioned with the Centre for Economics and Business Research as well as consumer polling, the index revealed record lows. While 2021’s score was 84.4, a slight rise on the 81.5 reported in 2020, this was still 15% lower than 2019’s pre-pandemic score of 99.4, it said.
The mental health impact was most significant among women, young people and those from ethnic minorities, it added.
On burnout, a study by LemonEdge, a digital accountancy platform for the private capital and venture capital industry, found that a third (33%) of financial service and banking professionals feel that working from home and hybrid working has increased burnout, with one in six (14%) stating that it had risen exponentially.
Nearly a quarter (23%) of financial service workers were concerned about their health or mental health, it added.
Even before the cost-of-living crisis began to bite rising financial insecurity was causing UK workers to feel anxious about sick leave, according to a poll by benefits firm MetLife UK.
The poll, conducted in February but published to coincide with the mental health week, suggested that even at that point more than a fifth of Britons were feeling anxious about losing out financially by taking a sick day, with women especially worried, with the likelihood being that this has only become worse as prices and costs have risen.
A fifth (21%) said they would be worried their boss or other colleagues would not believe they are actually poorly if they took a day off, and almost the same number (20%) said they worry about the amount of work they will have to come back to.
The poll found just one in six (17%) believed they would be supported by their colleagues, and the same percentage (17%) felt they would be able take the time they needed to recover fully.
Adrian Matthews, head of employee benefits at MetLife, said: “Having just lived through the pandemic, health, sickness, and the transmission of illness has never been more widely discussed. Employers should work hard to ensure their employees feel supported when they’re ill so they feel they can take the time off they need to feel better and are not creating an environment which relies on presenteeism and employees having to hide how they’re really feeling.”