Mental-health related time off work increases during lockdown

New research from NTT DATA UK, a world leader in consulting and IT services, has found that the COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in fewer fit notes being issued to workers but a marked increase in mental-health related illness that resulted in time taken off work. Mental health illness now accounts for 4 in 10 of all issued fit notes.

In England, the COVID-19 lockdown lasted from 23rd March to 4th July. New data for these months, recently released by NHS Digital and analysed by NTT DATA UK, has shown the consequential impact on the issuance of fit notes. A fit note is an official document written by doctors to provide a medical opinion on a person’s fitness to work and is usually required when an employee is on sick leave for more than seven days.

The research found that employees took less time off work during lockdown compared to the 12-month average – even when taking furloughed workers into consideration.

  • The number of fit notes issued in April, May and June 2020 dropped by 34.1%
  • However, 26.9% of UK workers were furloughed in April, May and June
  • Therefore, the number of fit notes issued to those still working decreased by 10%

However, the proportion of fit notes for mental health increased during lockdown:

  • The number of fit notes issued with the diagnosis of “mental and behavioural disorders” in April, May and June decreased by 22.8% compared to the 12-month average
  • However, 26.9% of UK workers were furloughed in April, May and June
  • Taking this into account, the number of fit notes issued for mental health issues increased by 6%

The research found that mental health-related fit notes now account for 41% of all issued fit notes*, up from 35% in the preceding 12-months.

Carole Spiers, chair of ISMAUK,commented, “As we approach another stay-at-home order, employers need to learn from the first lockdown and offer support from afar. Working from home is a major challenge at the moment, and employees need tips and strategies to enhance mental wellbeing while working remotely.

“Stress and mental health problems have never been more important than now, and the challenges they present never more acute than in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ending the stigma associated with stress and mental health and promoting wellbeing in the workplace are major goals for ISMAUK. Our upcoming Global Stress & Wellbeing Summit will deliver practical advice and insights to enhance mental wellbeing in the new world of work”.

Vicki Chauhan, Head of Public Services at NTT DATA UK, said: commented on the findings: “Employee mental health and wellbeing has always been of crucial importance in the workplace. This research shows that it’s more important now than ever to support our health as lockdown and remote working continues to impact society.”

“At NTT DATA we provide our staff with emotional support and coaching by trained mental health first aiders and regularly sharing useful content on mental health management. To promote mindfulness and self-care, we encourage regular breaks during the day and also offer free virtual yoga sessions. Most importantly, we urge our employees to support each other and reach out to their colleagues if they are struggling.”

“These are extraordinary times and until we can return to a level of normality, employers must remain conscious of the challenges that remote working poses to mental health and continue to support their staff as this pandemic evolves.”

This week is International Stress Awareness Week and to coincide with it, the ISMA is running an online global stress and wellbeing summit.

Author: Editorial Team

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