How Mental Health Awareness Impacts Employee Sick Leave Policies

How Mental Health Awareness Impacts Employee Sick Leave Policies

Today, the world is more aware of mental health and its associated issues than ever before, and is part of the occupational health conversation. But this wave of awareness also has impacts Employee Sick Leave, making it essential that employers are fully aware of their employees’ entitlements.

The fact that mental health in the workplace is a more open subject has had a very positive effect overall. Employees are now confirming to HR departments the true reasons for their absence from work. They no longer feel as though anxiety, for example, will only be seen as a lame excuse and so claim to have food poisoning instead.

The acceptance of conditions like depression, anxiety and panic attacks as genuine occupational health conditions was underlined earlier this year, when  the response from one CEO to an employee declaring her decision to take days off to “focus on (her) mental health” received widespread praise.

Mental Health Issues Rising

The figures show that mental health in the workplace has become a very real issue. It was estimated that 11.5% of all sick days taken in 2016 were down to stress, depression and anxiety – all prominent mental health issues. In all, they represented 15.8 million lost working days. It is also estimated that as many as 1 in 6 workers deal with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress. This can stop people performing at their best.

According to a survey carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, some 34% of UK employees have health and well-being problems. What is more, 40% of UK employers reported an increase in staff taking employee sick leave due to mental health and stress in 12 months between 2011 and 2012, and 44% saw an increase in reported mental health problems over the same period.

The Sainsbury Centre For Mental Health, meanwhile, has produced a survey that claims presenteeism accounts for 1.5 times as much lost working time as absenteeism, costing as much as £15.1 billion each year in reduced productivity. And because presenteeism is behind the presence of mental health sufferers in the workplace instead of having treatment, it can be defined as a survival mechanism.

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, presenteeism often has a detrimental impact on the workplace. This is obvious when dealing with physical illnesses, like the ‘flu, which can spread amongst employees and significantly lower production levels. But even when talking about mental health in the workplace, taking time off when necessary is a better decision.

Encouraging these staff members to take mental health days as part of their employee sick leave whenever necessary will ensure these employees feel supported and valued. Maintaining some contact during their absence will further help to do so.

Making Adjustments For Mental Health

Many forms of mental illness are considered to be a disability and, as such, employees have entitlements. In the UK, these entitlements are protected under the Equality Act 2010 (in Northern Ireland the Disability Discrimination Act 1995), while in Ireland it is the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011.

This array of legislation state that employers are legally obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for any employees that have a disability. Normally, we consider this to mean things like building a ramp at the premises entrance to accommodate wheelchairs or having designated and properly equipped toilet facilities for the disabled.

The best forms of ‘reasonable adjustments’ offer practical improvements that help to lessen the negative impact of mental health in the workplace. These adjustments can include:

  • Time off to attend medical appointments
  • Mentoring and peer support within the workplace
  • Consulting with an employee to accommodate their return to work
  • Adjusting an employee’s attendance hours or allowing them to work at home
  • Relieving an employee of certain tasks, and substituting other equivalent duties, in consultation with the employee
  • Provision of relevant training to support the employee to carry out their duties.

Impact On Policies

Whether an employee is suffering from a physical or mental illness, they are still entitled to the usual rules of sick leave entitlements. These are already set by legislation, but once mental health issues have been identified, employers must now develop a plan to respond supportively.

To do so, HR departments should consider a number of measures:

  • whether to train managers in support techniques
  • whether to bring in a trained individual from outside
  • whether to refer employees in need to an occupational health or counselling service

These services may be available free under the company’s group risk insurance policy as an ‘add on benefit’.  However, even if the company has to pay, such a measure can make a real difference.

About the Author

AnnualLeave is a leading employee leave management tool on the market, lifting the HR headache by cutting request processing times, monitoring leave trends, and maintaining company compliance all with one user-friendly, affordable self-service app. For more information you can get in touch with one of our team via our online form or email at

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