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UK loses 17 million working days to stress, depression and anxiety

The UK lost 17 million working days to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the year 2021 to 2022 according to the latest data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

An estimated 914 thousand workers suffered with mental ill-health relating to their work, accounting for half (51%) of all work-related ill-health cases (1.8 million) for the year.

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Nick Wilson, director of health and safety services at WorkNest, said the onus is on employers to alleviate this strain.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Losing 17 million working days to stress, depression or anxiety is substantially worrying, but it emphasises that this should remain a key area of focus for employers, not only for their employees’ sake but for the sake of business productivity too.”

Of the 914,000 work-related stress, depression or anxiety cases, 372,000 were new for 2021 to 2022.

Wilson added: “A collaborative approach between HR and health and safety professionals is needed to tackle this issue otherwise we are likely to see an increase over the next 12 months.”

The current rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety is higher than pre-coronavirus levels in 2018 to 2019.

Simon Blake, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England said the rise is unsurprising.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “The impact of the pandemic has been tough on us all and the intensifying cost of living crisis will only serve to compound those stresses.

“Having said that, one silver lining from the pandemic is that we began to talk more freely about our mental health and support one another.

“As a nation, we are on a journey to develop our understanding of mental health. We must use that understanding to create healthier workplaces and communities so we can also seek and signpost to mental health support when we need it.”

For 2021, workload pressures were revealed to be the leading cause of reported stress, depression and anxiety.

Jamie Styles, director of people and culture at Koa Health warned of workload creep in the current climate.

“Workplace cultures can suffer from workload creep, especially when organisations have had to react to external factors like global economic shifts and staff turnover due to the Great Resignation. As a result, annual leave can be perceived as less of a priority, but this is a short-term solution that causes problems in the long run. 

“HR should ensure that all staff take breaks throughout the day too; for example, making time for micro-breaks (even a few minutes) at regular intervals.”

Taking annual leave is often a culture issue, Styles said, so it is important a healthy work/life balance is role modelled from the top.

He added: “While encouraging employees to take annual leave is a simple step to ensure that no more people suffer from a work-related illness, to truly address the current mental health crisis, businesses need to provide employees with a suite of comprehensive solutions which cover the full spectrum of conditions.

“This must include digital mental health tools, which employees can access round-the-clock.” 

After stress, depression or anxiety, musculoskeletal disorders were the second most common work-related health issue with 477,000 people suffering from them in 2021 to 2022.

Estimates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders are based on self-reports from the UK’s Labour Force Survey (LFS).