Mental healthBritish manufacturers are urging government, employers and GPs to tackle mental-health and stress-related sickness absences in the workplace, as evidence reveals that these issues remain in the ‘too difficult to deal with’ box.

The UK’s largest business survey on sickness absence published by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation and Jelf Empoyee Benefits, shows employers and GPs struggling to address mental health issues in the workplace and growing concerns over long-term absence trends.

Professor Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, says:

“While overall absence levels remain low, there continues to be a marked difference between short and long-term absence which is creeping up. Without a renewed effort to tackle its root causes it will continue to act as a drag on the economy and efforts to improve productivity and boost growth.

“Of particular concern is the gradual increase in stress and mental-health-related problems over the last 5 years with which GPs and employers are struggling to deal. As a society we can no longer ignore the very real impact of these issues both on the individuals concerned and the wider economy. Whilst employers and GPs appear able to manage other causes of absence they must now be given the tools to deal with stress and mental-health issues in the same way.”

Iain Laws, managing director – UK Healthcare and Group Risk at Jelf Employee Benefits, adds:

“The importance of Occupational Health and growth in health benefit provision resonates with employers who are increasingly recognising the productivity impact of ill health. It is therefore a little surprising that so many organisations still do not have formalised systems to identify absences at an early stage so these can be managed through effective interventions.

“Reliable, easy-to-use absence-recording systems empower employers and managers to provide the support to employees to minimise absence and manage longer-term or complex cases. This in turn can have a positive impact on benefit costs as early detection and action often means lower treatment costs as well.”

Overall absence levels remain low at 5.1 days (2.2%). However, two-fifths of companies report an increase of long-term absence, with only one-fifth reporting a decrease.

Back pain and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) remain the main cause of long-term absence (38%), with stress and mental-health disorders the main cause of absence in one in four companies. This has gradually increased since 2009.

Almost one third of companies say stress and mental health are the most difficult forms of absence to manage workplace adjustments for. A third of employers also say they don’t have the approaches in place for managing these effectively. GPs also find it difficult to suggest workplace adjustments, highlighting the need for more training in this area.

Only one in ten companies say they currently provide regular training for managers in mental-health issues. Just 2 percent of companies have an open mental-health disclosure policy, suggesting businesses find it as difficult an issue as society to address.