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Depression in the Workplace: The Hidden Cost of Employee Absenteeism

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    September 8, 2021

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    employers, Employee absenteeism, Depression in the workplace

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Depression in UK Workplaces: The Hidden Cost of Employee Sickness and Absence

The three main causes of employee absenteeism or sickness at work in the United Kingdom are stress, anxiety, and depression. These mental health challenges are often grouped together when data is collected on workplace-related issues. Looking further at the data, we can see that depression is one of the leading causes of ill health or disability worldwide and a major contributor to suicide and coronary heart disease. In England, 24% of women and 13% of men are diagnosed with depression in their lifetime.

Depression is defined by the NHS as having ‘many symptoms, including low mood, feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, lack of energy, and problems with sleep.’ The more symptoms someone has, the more likely they are to be depressed, and these symptoms can be seen both at work and at home. 

In 2019/20, stress, depression, or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health. In the UK, mental ill-health is responsible for 72 million working days lost and costs £34.9 billion each year. Evidence suggests that 12.7% of all employee sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, including depression.

Depression can have a huge impact on the workplace, including levels of productivity, employee turnover, and sickness rates. There are a number of factors that can affect mental health and lead to depression, both work and non-work related. It is recognised that there are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed successfully. These are demands, control, support, relationships, role, and change.  

In relation to stress in the workplace, employees often say that they:  

  • Are unable to cope with the demands of their jobs
  • Cannot control the way they do their work
  • Don’t receive enough information and support
  • Have trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied
  • Experience trouble fully understanding their role and responsibilities
  • Appear disengaged when a business is undergoing change

When these issues are not addressed, and their effects are not treated, depression can follow, which has a significant impact on work performance. This can then lead to high levels of employee absence and employee turnover.

Depression in the Workplace: The Employers’ Role

As with other mental health conditions, many employees who suffer from depression worry about telling their manager or colleague and worry about seeking treatment. They are concerned about judgement or damage to their career. These fears and negative stigmas surrounding mental health can be a major barrier to employees seeking help. Thankfully, most of these employees can successfully be treated with early recognition, support, and intervention.

Organisations often don’t fully understand the true cost of employee absenteeism and sickness. Managing sickness and absences is a huge headache for managers and HR teams. In order to soothe this headache, executives need to consider whether they are part of the problem. Spend time analysing whether you are creating a culture in which employees feel compelled to work regardless of their mental health state.

Employers can play a critical role in the early detection and intervention of mental health conditions. They can help employees access the assistance they need before their issues become too serious and result in an absence from work. A key part of these interventions can be leaders showing compassion and encouraging employers to speak out about their mental health and seek support. Leaders can do this by acknowledging common workplace stressors and creating a culture where raising concerns is not just welcomed but strongly encouraged.

For workplaces to be healthy and help employees with depression and other mental health conditions to thrive, there needs to be a supportive culture, proper awareness, education, and access to the right support. This means creating a workplace environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their challenges and speaking openly. By discussing common depression symptoms at work – through internal communications such as team meetings, blogs, sharing podcasts, and other awareness-raising methods – alongside providing access to mental health support, a supportive culture can be created.

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Supporting employees to manage common sources of stress

Stress is 'the body's reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure'. It is very common and can motivate us to help us achieve things in our daily lives, including at work. Some levels of stress are healthy, but too much stress occurs when a person feels that the demands, they face are greater than their ability to cope. This sort of stress can lead to common physical and mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.

As an executive, if you notice that any of your employees are acting out of character, or any significant changes in performance, it is worth sitting down and having a conversation about their workload. If they are under excessive stress and could possibly be experiencing depression, the sooner you identify their challenges, the sooner you can help them address these feelings.

Offering a wide variety of mental health services as an employer can make a big difference in employee wellbeing, both in and out of the workplace. Having an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available to employees has proved highly valuable in encouraging employees to address and manage everyday challenges. EAPs provide services to employees, typically in the form of counselling.

Although EAPs are extremely beneficial, more comprehensive support is likely needed for employees to thrive, especially for those suffering from mental health conditions. There is a strong body of evidence that shows that providing additional online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programmes along with EAP services and other HR support can help employers quickly scale up effective mental health services across their entire organisation.

Offering comprehensive, round the clock support to help reduce sickness and absence

With SilverCloud Health as your digital behavioural healthcare partner, employees have immediate, 24/7 access to a large suite of interactive digital mental health content. SilverCloud Health is the world’s leading digital mental health company enabling organisations to deliver clinically validated on-demand programmes that increase access to support and improve outcomes while reducing costs.

Our Space from Depression programme includes a variety of modules that cover different aspects of depression and offer practical help on management tactics.

Employers who demonstrate to their employees that they care about their mental health and wellbeing experience significant benefits. By making an investment in mental health, early detection, and intervention programmes, employers are facilitating a happier, healthier, and more productive environment. Through this investment, they experience reduced sickness rates and employee absences and an improvement in financial outcomes.

Those who have invested in SilverCloud Health are getting 24/7, on-demand, convenient and confidential support for their users. Our programmes help to remedy work-related stressors amongst employers by providing interactive tools and techniques. Based on the overall feedback employees provided, there was one overriding message: the SilverCloud Health programmes work.

Discover how you can improve access to proper mental healthcare in the workplace for your employees with SilverCloud Health:

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