The Unspoken Cause of Workplace Absences


There are many reasons why an employee may be required to take time off work, but did you know that mental health conditions are now the most common work-related illness?

Workplace absences can range from childcare responsibilities to work-related illness, however, according to a recent announcement by the Health and Safety Executive, the number of UK workers that suffered from mental health conditions which included work-related stress, depression and anxiety have risen by nearly 10% to 526,000 in the year 2016/2017.

What does this mean for businesses and the UK economy as a whole?

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that mental health conditions account for an annual average of 12.5 million working days lost; a cost to the UK economy of between £33-£42 billion.

It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, meaning that, in a workforce of 40 people, 10 individuals may experience a mental health condition.

In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health condition such as anxiety and depression in any given week.

According to the statistics gathered by Mind, 7.8 people in 100 will suffer mixed anxiety and depression, whilst 5.9 in 100 people will suffer from a generalised anxiety disorder, and 3.3 in every 100 people will have to deal with an overall depressed state of being and mind.

What can I, as an employer, do?

To help employees manage mental health, an employer should establish a workplace culture that promotes positive mental wellbeing.

It is advised to implement the following three practices:

  1. To develop a policy that outlines your organisation’s commitment to making workplace mental health a priority. This should include programmes or initiatives that will implement to achieve this goal;
  2. To develop policies and practices for workplace harassment, violence and bullying as these are some of the most common causes of mental health conditions; and
  3. Encourage employees to adopt a healthy work/life balance and implement policies that support and manage workloads.

Employers should also note that millennials are statistically more likely to suffer workplace injuries than older workers (millennials being those that are aged between 15 and 24). Providing junior employees with comprehensive training and having effective health and safety policies in place will assist in protecting younger workers within the workforce.

Employers should also note that an individual who is suffering from a mental health condition may also be disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act and, therefore, will have additional protection insofar as they should not be subject to a direct or indirect act or omission of discrimination and that the duty to make reasonable adjustments may arise.


If you would like to understand more about your legal responsibility as an employer around mental health in the workplace, please contact our Employment Department for a free initial telephone consultation. Call on 01708 229444 or email us using our contact form.This article was written by Alexander Pearce, Employment Law Senior Associate at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of March 2018.


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