May highlights awareness on mental health in the UK and this year, the particular focus is on loneliness.
Ill health brought on by loneliness is thought to cost employers £2.5 billion a year through increased sickness absence, lost working days caring for a person suffering with the ill health effects of loneliness, reduced productivity and costs associated with staff turnover. The Government has made loneliness in the community a high priority in recent years, appointing a Minister for Loneliness in 2017 and is now in its third year of annual reporting on loneliness in our communities and their plans to tackle it. Loneliness affects many people of all ages and over the last decade has come to be regarded as a serious issue affecting health and wellbeing.
The pandemic led to an increase in permanent home working or hybrid working arrangements and employers and employees face a challenge in embracing changes and building and maintaining effective and meaningful connections with colleagues. In recent polls carried out by Mental Health UK, they found that 20% of workers felt lonely at work and 23% agreed that their mental health was affected. Mental Health at Work research shows that 57% of working days lost to sickness in the UK was for mental health reasons and it remains the leading cause of absence in the UK workforce.
Supporting a mentally healthy workforce can lower sickness absence rates, reduce presenteeism and improve manager and employee relationships. Employers can assist combatting loneliness and research shows that providing a safe environment for employees to discuss mental health issues can improve attendance and performance at work. Creating a culture where employees are encouraged to talk openly with their managers and senior leaders will help reduce stigma and barriers for employees with mental health problems. With increased home working and hybrid working, employers have turned their attention to supporting their workforce in maintaining an inclusive work environment which in turn leads to better attendance, lower sickness absence, improved performance and staff retention rates. Providing training or upskilling on use of technology can help employees working remotely to keep in touch with colleagues. Training managers and those in leadership roles on how to deal appropriately with disclosures of ill-health remains critical to reduce the risk of discrimination claims and many employers now offer access to an Employee Assistance Programme or Mental Health First Aiders.