May 2018 saw not only mental health awareness week (14 - 18 May) but also the publication of the 18th annual CIPD Health and well-being at work survey. As technology starts to carry the burden of "manual" labour the report highlights that the greatest risks to employee well-being are now psychological. The rebranding of the survey (it was previously called the Absence Management Survey) has been done because of an increased focus on health and wellbeing policies, albeit the survey continues to monitor absence management trends, policy and practice.
The report this year shows that 37% of organisations surveyed have seen an increase in stress related absence and 55% say that reported common mental health conditions have increased. Over 20% now report that mental ill health is the primary cause of long term absence, an increase from 13% in the previous year. This is combined with increases in unhealthy patterns of behaviour with over two thirds of organisations reporting "leaveism" - where staff work when they should be on holiday - and a huge 86% have observed presenteeism - staff turning up when they are ill - over the past 12 months. The report also identifies the double edged sword of the impact of technology - 75% of organisations reported the benefit of flexible working that technology provides, but 87% said technology affected employees' ability to switch off out of work hours.
There is some causes for optimism - the survey suggests that employer's recognition of mental health as a workplace issue has increased - the proportion of employers raising awareness of the issue in the workplace has risen from 31% in the previous year to 51% in the latest survey. Given very many people spend considerably more time with colleagues at work than with family and friends at home this can only be a good thing.
But for all of the increasing awareness within the workplace the black and white figures show that this is still an increasing problem. While some factors affecting psychological health are outside an employer's control the survey identifies that a number of factors within the employer's control are still not being properly addressed in many cases. The biggest cause of stress at work is, once again, unmanageable workloads, a factor that can and should be addressed by line managers if they are properly trained - one of the key challenges identified for businesses is ill equipped line managers who lack the knowledge and confidence in dealing with management of disability and long term health conditions. The average level of employee absence has also increased - 6.6 days per employee per year up from 6.3 days in the previous year.
So how are these problems addressed? The conclusion of the survey is that businesses must remember that their greatest asset is their people. The statistics show that where senior leaders and managers recognise the importance of employee wellbeing then levels of both presenteeism and leavism reduce. This is a scenario where prevention is better than cure. Wellbeing should no longer be seen as a peripheral HR "best practice" issue but instead needs to become part of the workplace culture.