June 30, 2022
We spend so much of our lives at work it is no surprise that we bring a lot of our problems home from the office. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean those problems are resolved the next morning when we return. In fact, often we can get caught in a cycle which becomes out of control and can lead to ill-health, absence and, in extreme cases where the right support is not offered, losing the job completely.
Work-related stress, depression and anxiety is on the rise, but is that because people are more open to talking about it and addressing it and therefore reporting it? In the past we may have bottled these things up until they spiralled out of control. Now, because of a welcome breakthrough in the general stigma surrounding mental health, people are encouraged to be open and to talk about their issues without being judged, and workplaces have structures and procedures in place to be more supportive and sympathetic to the symptoms and to be more proactive in preventing issues building and festering in the first place.
Huge increase in work-related mental health issues since 2001
In the year 2020/21, according to the Health & Safety Executive, 822,000 UK employees were affected by work-related stress, depression and anxiety. This equates to 2480 per 100,000 employees, which has risen dramatically from 1500 per 100,000 employees 19 years ago in 2001/02. If you consider the possible triggers for mental health issues which can happen outside of work also (relationships, poverty, drug and alcohol-dependency, bullying at school, criminality etc) this is a huge figure in a simple work context, albeit, of those 822,000, 449,000 said that the pandemic caused their stress, depression and anxiety to worsen.
However, the huge numbers do suggest that more can be done by HR departments to provide management support, better job structure and to manage workloads better, as a way of preventing mental health issues building, and as opposed to simply having robust disciplinary procedures for workplace bullying or harassment, ie. after the event has happened and the mental health issue has been planted.
Other than the isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic, other major reasons given for work-related mental health absences were:
- Workload (tight deadlines, too much work, too much pressure, too much responsibility)
- Lack of management support
- Organisational change
- Violence and harassment
- Role uncertainty
How employers can provide more support for workplace mental health issues
This shows how HR departments have a huge role to play in supporting management with appraisal systems and regular monitoring to identify where issues are occurring and what is triggering certain behaviours. All reasons for absence are monitored by HR departments, but where patterns are occurring this needs to be identified and discussed fairly and openly before deeper issues occur. Aside from the human issue, days lost to work-related stress, depression and anxiety are a huge cost to UK businesses.
Issues of stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health, which also equated to 17.9million work days lost out of a total of 38.8million days lost for all ill health and non-fatal injuries in 2019/20. Of those 17.9million days, the average person took 21.6 days off as a result of mental health issues.
Clearly this has a knock-on effect for the employer, but first and foremost, awareness, transparency and open discussions need to be encouraged to help employees and prevent problems building up into something which can’t be controlled.
Female age-groups at the most risk of workplace mental health issues
Statistically, women are more likely to suffer from stress, depression and anxiety than men. Over a three-year period between 2018 and 2021, 3570 out of every 100,000 female employees suffered work-related mental health issues in the 25-34 age bracket. This was the highest age bracket by far in the findings, with the next closest being 2750 out of 100,000 females in the 35-44 age bracket. The highest men’s age bracket was 25-34 years old with 2250 out of 100,000.
Although these figures have been collated by the HSE for many years, it is only recently that their prevalence has been recognised and people have generally come to accept that mental health issues are commonplace, vary significantly in severity and are better addressed by being talked about openly. The figures are alarming, particularly those which highlight how frequently women are suffering from these issues compared to men, but certainly, the more we highlight these figures and the more we talk about them, the better we should become at recognising problems, in ourselves and in others, addressing them and stopping them before they become difficult to manage.
At Spencers Solicitors we have seen many different forms of work-related mental health, from bullying and harassment cases, to unfair dismissal cases and disability discrimination where mental impairments have not been properly supported. We fully support every investigation into improving protocols and procedures surrounding work-related mental health and are undertaking a detailed study into this in 2022.
If you have experienced or are aware of a work-related mental health issue, please come and talk to our dedicated and specialist employment law experts, who can help you access the right support and advice.