Mercer research: Mental health issues have become primary cause of staff absence

Mental health has overtaken musculoskeletal issues as the primary cause of staff absence in the UK and Europe, according to data gathered by Mercer.

Data gathered by the consultancy from Unum and Canada Life also reveals that mental health issues were the primary cause of income protection claims by UK employees in 2010.

The data found that mental health issues were cited as the cause of around 30% of the claims made in the UK against corporate income protection schemes. In 2004, claims citing mental health as a cause averaged 28%.

According to Mercer, the situation is complicated by a general inability by employers to gather information on the causes and details of employee absences.

While many employers state that mental health is the prime cause of long-term absences, 25% of UK respondents to Mercer’s European Survey, which was published earlier this month, said that their organisations had no good access to data on the causes, duration or cost of their employees’ absences.

Of those who did have some form of measurement, the majority focused on duration of absence (73%), cause of absence (43%) and cost of absence (19%).

Dr Wolfgang Seidl, Europe, Middle East and Asia (EMEA) head of health management at Mercer, said: “Understanding and awareness of mental health conditions and the impact that it has on an employee’s productivity has leapt forward in recent years.

“This may be reflected in the figures as employees are more open in discussing mental health issues.

“The good news is that many employers are aware that their employees’ happiness affects their concentration, accuracy, behaviour and absence rates and are willing to respond to this. However, employers must endeavour to remain ahead of the curve. Medical insurance costs associated with mental health are heading upwards and will rise further as the state retreats.

“Good data gathering and the correct policies in place will help.

“On the one hand, we know that mental health is a problem, we know that absence is a problem and we know that there are likely to be cuts in state provision that will exacerbate the situation yet a large proportion of companies do not know why their employees are absent.

“This is not good business practice and costs organisations’ money. Poor mental health and high absence rates leads to high staff turnover, recruitment challenges, high compensation claims, reputational issues and an inability to meet contractual deadlines.”

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