Wellbeing | Lockdown sees more staff signed off with mental health issues

Lockdown sees more staff signed off with mental health issues

New analysis of NHS Digital data has revealed that the number of people applying for fit notes from GPs for mental health-related reasons increased by six per cent in the first lockdown period in England.

In addition to this, the Independent reported that the latest data found that mental health problems now account for circa four in 10 of all fit notes signed by doctors.

Despite a decrease in the overall number of fit notes in the first lockdown period – between March and June when 26% of the population were placed on the Government’s furlough scheme – the number of fit notes issued for mental health increased by almost six per cent.

Acas explained that a fit note – which used to be called a ‘sick note’ – is an official written statement from a GP giving their medical opinion on a person’s fitness for work.

If a worker has a period of sickness absence for more than seven calendar days, the site explained that they should get a fit note from their GP.

The analysis by NTT Data UK also found that between April 2019 and March 2020, a total of 247,791 fit notes were issued. 86,961 of those were for ‘mental health and behavioural disorders’ which the study said is equivalent to 35%.

During the months of April, May and June 2020, a total of 163,250 fit notes were issued by GPs. 67,105 of these were for mental health-related issues, which was 41% of the total.

Although there were ten per cent fewer fit notes issued due to many staff members being placed on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) during the lockdown period, there was a 5.5% increase in fit notes relating to mental health.

Carole Spiers, Chair of the International Stress Management Association, explained: “Working from home is a major challenge at the moment, and employees need tips and strategies to enhance mental wellbeing while working remotely.”

With employee mental health and wellbeing a top priority for the HR function, it is crucial that employers provide the necessary level of support to employees.

How can the HR function support employee mental health in the workplace?

When England was in ‘Lockdown 2.0’ in early November, HR Grapevine spoke to Matt Hubbard, Lloyds Banking Group’s Ambassador for the East of England, who shared tips around how employers and HR can support employee mental health in the workplace.

Hubbard previously explained that it is crucial to signpost the channels and tools that are available to support colleagues. “Whether it’s encouraging employees to sign up to internal newsletters, or to pick up the phone or dial into video calls more regularly, creating a sense of connectedness will be crucial for employers in the months ahead,” Hubbard explained.

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At Lloyds Banking Group, Hubbard explained that the organisation has been able to offer a “comprehensive suite of support resources” that can be accessed online through the firm’s wellbeing portal.

This, he said, focuses on both prevention as well as supporting workers with the challenges of working from home, domestic abuse, finances, staying healthy among other things. 

“But we’ve also been mindful to help empower colleagues to put their wellbeing more front of mind, to keep an eye out for one another but also consider even smaller very practical changes they can build into their working day to help make a difference to overall wellbeing, from walking 1-2-1 meetings, blocking out meeting-free time or ‘camera off’ meetings,” Hubbard added.

Promoting good mental wellbeing in remote workplaces

As many employees continue to work from home in light of the coronavirus crisis, it is important for HR functions and employers to promote good mental wellbeing in remote workplaces.

With the lack of a daily commute, some employees may feel encouraged to work more hours and this could lead to burnout if it is left unmanaged.

“It’s up to HR teams to empower leadership and management teams to promote healthy working practices and to lead by example,” Hubbard explained, adding that this could mean abstaining from sending emails out of hours and encouraging regular breaks among the team.

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