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HR leaders see mental health absences rise, report shows

Work-related stress has contributed to significant mental health issues for 40% of employees, the report found

Nearly half (49%) of HR leaders reported seeing an increase in mental health absences, a report by mental wellbeing platform Headspace has revealed.

The latest edition of platform’s annual Workforce State of Mind Report also revealed that while 44% of employees turned to their managers for mental health support, only a quarter of HR leaders said that managers are required to take mental-health-specific training. 

A further 43% of employees indicated that their managers had negatively impacted their mental health by lacking an understanding of their life and work hour boundaries, or by treating team members unequally.

The report also highlighted that 78% of employees viewed work stress as having poorly impacted their physical health.

A further 76% said that work stress has caused a personal relationship to end in divorce or break up (this is most common among Gen X), while 40% indicated that work has negatively impacted their ability to care for their family or children's mental health.

Pamela Gellatly, strategic development director at healthcare provider HCML, told HR magazine that managers should consider employees' stress outside of work.

She explained: “Many managers feel it is not their job to consider factors that are external, but we have to as it is difficult to divide the two. 

“Mental health does not compartmentalise into work and non-work, it all merges together. This is made worse by home working.”

Read more: Mental health awareness could be "going too far": HR responds

Nebel Crowhurst, chief people officer at Reward Gateway, commented that managers should have specific mental health training to help employees combat stress.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “All managers should undergo regular mental health training to equip them with the knowledge to help them identify and support various struggles that their people may be experiencing. 

“This will enable managers to have open conversations about how they can support their teams both in and outside of work.”

Crowhurst noted that holistic benefits packages could help employees with their mental and physical health.

She commented: “When combating today’s stress epidemic, employers need to look at holistic support packages: rewards, subsidies, benefits and appreciation all go towards helping employees in times of crisis.

“Benefits like interest-free loans on white goods could dampen some immediate financial stress. Or, why not show your support for often expensive life decisions through fertility support with family planning or valuable mortgage advice?”

Jeanette Wheeler, chief HR officer at MHR, added that employees should be able to voice their stress to people other than their managers, too.

She told HR magazine: “Having mental health first aiders in the workplace can provide support for work-related stress issues, as they can often provide a touchpoint for employees outside their direct team, allowing them to discuss workloads and manager-related challenges without fear of repercussions.”

Read more: How can HR teams prevent stress from occurring in workplaces?

Wheeler continued: “Although many organisations have these services in place, they often fail to adequately signpost these support systems to employees, which can create an impression that businesses are merely paying lip service to mental health support. 

“As such, offerings should also be regularly discussed to remove the stigma associated with using them.”

According to Headspace's report, for 40% of employees work stress contributes to serious mental health challenges, such as substance use or suicidal ideation.

Gellatly explained that HR could use risk assessments to understand which employees have high risk mental health, and how to support them.

She said: “A risk assessment should be undertaken to identify the occupational hazards and who can be harmed and how. This should involve health and safety, HR, employee representatives and unions.  

“Then – from understanding the risks either from data that is held via sickness absence management, EAP or presenteeism assessments – an organisation can build a framework from which it can build a strategy to address these issues.”

Headspace surveyed 1,000 CEOs, employees and HR leaders in the UK between January and February 2024.