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The cost of employee absenteeism

The negative impact of Covid-19 cost UK businesses £14bn last year, as absenteeism from work due to mental health reasons increased by £1.3bn due to work from home, travel restrictions, furlough and pay cuts changing the workplace for millions of employees.

Mental health related absence is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in UK workplaces, leading to increased staff turnover, reduced engagement and high presenteeism.

The state of mental health

The state of mental wellbeing varies across the world. YouGov research suggest that Britons are the most likely to report that Covid has harmed their mental health (65 per cent) followed by those in Hong Kong (63 per cent), and Italy (62 per cent) — with Germans the least affected (44 per cent). A global survey by the Financial Times on work and mental health, to which more than 250 readers responded highlighted that stress and feeling overwhelmed are a common problem, with many taking time off due to burnout, whilst others spoke of a lack of motivation, difficulty sleeping and increased drinking.

During the pandemic employees welcomed receiving encouraging messages from their managers, urging them to prioritise their wellbeing, in some cases supported by extra help such as meditation sessions. However, for many employees such support was ultimately meaningless as it didn’t address their increased workloads, having to face additional hours due to job losses, furlough, and sickness. Remote working combined with social distancing has also created additional problems, such as the lack of feedback brought on by the increased autonomy which left employees unable to judge how well they are performing.

The role of the leader

Supporting employees from a distance during the pandemic has been a challenge for many leaders. Some felt unprepared to face the demands of remote working, whilst focusing on their teams’ mental health as well as their own. However, normalising mental health challenges has been one of the silver linings of the pandemic, making leaders more honest about their mental health. This new approach means that leaders can open door for employees to feel comfortable talking about their own mental health and remove the stigma that used to be the norm prior to the pandemic.

When leaders describe their challenges, whether mental-health-related or not, others will see them as human and relatable. In addition, authentic leadership can cultivate trust and improve employee engagement and performance. But mental health support doesn’t stop at talking about it, it requires leaders waking the talk. It’s common that leaders are so focused on their team’s wellbeing and getting their work done, that they forget to look after themselves. If the leader can model the behaviours that support mental health, this will set a strong foundation for building a supportive company culture.

Today, more than ever, organisations need to prioritise proactive and preventive workplace mental health training for leaders, managers, and individual contributors. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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