- 21 January 2022
Official data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has found that 36.8 million working days were lost in 2021-2022 due to work-related ill health with 1.8 million working people suffering from a work-related illness. The primary cause of ill health was found to be work-related stress, depression or anxiety affecting 914,000 workers.
The rate of work-related ill-health cases has increased following the pandemic and it is feared that this problem will only worsen in light of reports of depression and anxiety being caused by financial worries amid the ongoing cost of living crisis. This is also not helped by exceptionally long NHS waiting lists for mental health support.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported that the number of working-age adults who are out of the labour market (known as ‘economically inactive’ which refers to people who are not in work and have not been seeking or not been available for work) because of long-term sickness has been rising since 2019. It has risen from around 2 million people in spring 2019 to around 2.5 million in summer 2022.
Managing the implications of long-term sickness has been a long-standing challenge for employers in their attempt to balance their obligations to their employees when they are unwell and the needs of the business. Given the above statistics, this balancing act is going to be a growing issue. There is a lot an employer can do to support those who become unwell or have periods in their lives where they need greater support and most HR professionals and good managers know (even if they don’t always have the time or resources) what that looks like, with help ranging from the provision of private counselling services, private medical insurance and income protection plans to mental health education for managers, access to occupational health, sick pay, supportive back to work interviews and adjustments and flexibility of working arrangements.
challenge for employers and managers is preventing the long term work-related ill health cases in the first place
The bigger challenge for employers and managers is preventing the long term work-related ill health cases in the first place. Once an employee has been off work for four weeks or more, statistically, getting them back to work is going to be very difficult. No employer can remove the general stresses of life that impinge on its employees, but it can avoid adding to a culmination of stresses that may be the difference between someone needing to take time off and being able to carry on working. With such uncertainty and worries outside of work, an employer can play its part by not adding to those anxieties. For example, it can at least choose to be open and transparent with its communications and engage employees in any process of change that the current economic climate may necessitate. Most employees fear having no control over change as much as the change itself. Creating employee forums, providing information and giving people time to adjust is critical to prevent the stress induced absence. Having a leadership and managers who recognise the need for engagement, as well as appreciating individual needs and personal development as opposed to a one size fits all approach and a culture that is supportive of everyone that is led from the top, will go a long way to providing a work environment that nurtures individuals, so that the chance of the organisation having employees who find themselves being part of the statistic of 914,000 workers with work-related stress will hopefully be significantly reduced.
If you need any advice or support dealing with restructuring, putting in place employee representative bodies or dealing with long term sickness issues please call one of our employment team on firstname.lastname@example.org
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.
About this article
SubjectAvoiding being part of UK’s long-term sickness increase
Published21 January 2022
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