Mental Health Absences Cost UK Businesses £14 Billion in 2020

UK businesses lost £14billion last year due to workers being forced to take time off from work, for mental health, during the pandemic. A new study reports that the UK suffered a huge disparity in losses when compared to previous years—and COVID-19 was the main culprit.

COVID-19 has shone a bright light on the importance of mental health, and employers are taking notice. A 10% increase in workers being absent cost UK business more in 2020 than in 2019—to the tune of £1.3bn, according to Westfield Health via a survey of companies and staff.

About 81% of businesses have redirected focus to the mental and physical health of employees. One of the few positive side effects of the pandemic. In 2019, employees took an average of 2.90 days off work for mental health-related issues, but in 2020, that number rose to 3.19 days off.

The research also found that one in three employees feel that their mental health issues are hurting their productivity each week. Westfield Health’s Coping with COVID report also noted that 76% of those surveyed stated a decline in their productivity since the pandemic began.

Also noted in the report, a staggering 22% of employees are worried about job loss, while 26% are feeling rising anxiety levels about work, and 12% believe their employers are not offering enough support.

“As we know, Covid-19 is having a huge impact on employees’ mental health, the scars from which may not be visible, let alone heal, for many years and have arguably changed our connection to work and colleagues permanently.

“The findings from our research paint a worrying picture for workplace productivity, with the economic impact of mental health deepening.

“However, the way businesses have and are responding to this challenge gives us hope, as when we come out the other side of this pandemic, there will be a long-term commitment to support employees’ mental and physical wellbeing,” Westfield Health chief executive Dave Capper said.

Capper continued: “The £14 billion costs uncovered in this research show that decreasing mental health is both a public health and an economic issue.”

The survey also reported that less engagement, loneliness, and low morale have risen among UK employees. Other studies found that the population at large had a harder time maintaining healthy thanks to the new pressures brought by the pandemic. Daily routines such as exercising, drinking coffee or Jun kombucha, and going to sleep at a regular time are all known to contribute to better mental health. It’s hard to quantify what effect the routine disruption caused by the pandemic had on the mental health of the population at large, but the spike in mental health absences might indicate that the effects were severe.

Westfield Health noted a bright spot with companies showing a 34% increase in spending on wellbeing, a potential reaction to the negative trend. The challenge seems to be turning heads and those in positions of power in companies are taking notice—and working to course correct.

Within the current year, more than a third of the companies have stated they will increase spending, and half cited intentions to increase spending on well-being in the next five years.