Official Figures Reveal Alarming Trends
Today, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has brought into sharp relief the burgeoning crisis in the UK labour market with figures that can only be described as startling. The data reveals that the employment rate has dipped sharply, owing largely to employees taking long-term sick leaves. With an increase of 27,000 people on long-term sick leave just since June 2023, it seems the UK is standing on the precipice of an employment calamity.
Unpacking the Underlying Causes
The root of this increasing inactivity in the workforce is deeply entwined with the deteriorating mental health of UK employees. This grim reality has been corroborated by the Business Group on Health’s 2024 survey, which found that a staggering 77% of large employers have reported an upsurge in the mental health needs of their workforce.
Nick Pahl, CEO of the Society of Occupational Medicine, has emphatically urged both government and private sectors to invest substantially in Occupational Health, outlining the severe economic implications if this trend continues. But his appeal doesn’t solely apply to big businesses. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are equally part of this complex equation.
Economic and Generational Factors At Play
This crisis isn’t an isolated phenomenon; it mirrors the underlying economic strain felt by UK households. From skyrocketing energy bills to a sharp dip in real wages due to inflation, the impact on employees is manifest. A Gallup survey puts it in stark terms: 19% of professionals in the UK report feeling angry at work.
Generation Z, often perceived as the ‘anti-ambition generation,’ has been significantly impacted. Contrary to popular belief, their seeming lack of enthusiasm towards work might be a byproduct of higher baseline stress levels than older colleagues.
Financial and Benefit-Based Solutions: Are They Enough?
To address the issue, companies are trying to better compensate employees, as indicated by the ONS data that shows a 7.8% growth in regular pay in May to July 2023. However, given the pressures of an inflationary economy, how far can this go?
Kerri-Ann Hargreaves, Director of HR and recruitment at Newcastle-under-Lyme-based Net-Worth Ntwrk, weighs in on the debate, stating that small businesses face particular challenges in retaining talent amid these economic pressures. The need for innovative solutions is pressing.
The Argument for Well-Targeted Benefits
Given these unprecedented challenges, some advocate for a well-designed package of staff benefits. Citing a 2022 Deloitte report, which estimates that mental ill health costs businesses £56bn annually, the argument for staff benefits is not merely altruistic, but grounded in cold, hard economics. From Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) to more lenient break policies, the call for companies to be proactive rather than reactive is loud and clear.
The Workers Union Says…
The current trends signal a multifaceted problem requiring collective efforts from both private and public sectors. Companies must acknowledge their role in mitigating the escalating crisis of employee mental health and take actionable steps to curb this detrimental trend.