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An employee calling in sick to work is considered completely acceptable if it’s for a migraine, stomach bug or physical injury. But what about the days a member of staff is at work and although they’re not physically ill, mentally they are absent?

It’s estimated that mental health-related presenteeism costs employers up to 3x the cost of mental health related absence1. This equates to an annual cost of £16.8bn to £26.4bn for UK business. So does it make sense to treat a mental health absence with the same approach as a physical sickness day?

Last year, Britons took 137million sick days, of these, 15.8million were for mental health issues (stress, depression, anxiety, bipolar or anything else). ‘Mental health days’ are a way of ensuring employees are 100% mentally present at work meaning they will inevitably be more productive.

Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, Richard Holmes, explains how employers can prevent mental health absences and why it’s important for employers to allow for ‘mental health days’ off work.

  1. On-site stress busters

“Work is the most common cause of stress in British adults, with 59% of employees suffering from stress in the workplace2. By reducing stress at work, it will prevent employees taking mental health-related absences in the first place. Businesses can introduce schemes and techniques such as relaxation sessions, chill-out zones and exercise classes to help employees unwind and switch off from their workload.”

  1. Communication

“It’s important to encourage employees to talk openly and freely about how they feel mentally. This can be encouraged by line managers by ensuring they are approachable and have an open door policy. Organising social activities is a good way to help colleagues get along outside work whilst making them feel more at ease when it comes to talking about their mental health.”

  1. Encourage staff to get out the office

“Not only is eating at your desk bad for your body, it’s bad for your work and your mental health. Getting fresh air and a change of scenery will mean employees return to their desks feeling recharged and less stressed. It is also a good way to encourage employees to get out the office and exercise. When exercising, endorphins are released which have been proven to reduce stress, boost self-esteem and ward off feelings of anxiety and depression.”

  1. Create a flexible work environment

“Employee benefits aren’t just about a high salary or extra holiday days. Businesses that have a flexible work schedule are more likely to retain staffas it gives them the ability to manage a work-life balance3. By businesses adhering to employees individual needs (e.g. school runs and participating in hobbies), it will reduce the stress and pressure of everyday life. Likewise, if businesses allow staff to work from home when feeling mentally unwell, it will reduce the stigma behind mental health absenteeism.”

  1. Introduce a workplace wellbeing programme

“A surge in over stressed and over worked employees has led to a rise in mental health absenteeism. One way that businesses can improve this is by introducing a workplace wellbeing programme which encourages staff to manage and speak openly about their physical and mental health. By introducing initiatives like this, businesses are more likely to have a happier and healthier workforce, reducing avoidable absenteeism.”

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