• Mental health issues have been a common focus in recent press articles and it is easy to see how employers might struggle to know what to do.

    A recent EEF manufacturing report has indicated that whilst overall sickness absence remains low, long-term absence has seen its largest rise in five years. According to the report, two fifths of companies have seen a rise of long-term absence and this has seen manufacturers urging the Government to tackle increasing levels of mental health and stress-related sickness absence.

    Back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders have traditionally been the manufacturing industry’s biggest long-term health problem. However, stress and mental health disorders are now the main cause of absence for one in four companies.

    Providing healthcare benefits, allowing employees to use these services when required, can help in reducing treatment times and therefore potentially, also absence rates. Depending on your business, there are other proactive steps that might help a workplace improve productivity by reducing long-term absence:

    • Recognising the business case for positive mental health and providing mental health training for managers. We appreciate that not all industries would necessarily consider such specific training. However, as the statistics on long-term absence are rising, we can see the benefits of tackling any possible mental health issues at the outset.
    • Tackle short-term absence by conducting stress risk assessments and return-to-work interviews so that there can be early enquiries about underlying health concerns.
    • Make early referrals to Occupational Health. Occupational health can not only assist in terms of identifying what health concerns the employee has, but can also provide employers with guidance on whether there are any specific steps the employer can make.

    It may be that an employee suffering from a mental health condition is considered as disabled in employment law and in which case there will be a duty on the employer to consider reasonable adjustments to help them stay at work. Occupational health can assist with this duty. What is clear is that there is a material increase in reporting of mental health conditions and manufacturing companies, along with other sectors, need to make sure strategies are in place to address these issues.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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