FirstCare, the absence management specialists, predict that this December will see UK workplace absence hit a new high. Across the UK, the company predicts, a total of 23 million working days will be lost in December, delivering a huge knock-on effect to both UK productivity and increased pressure on the NHS.

Importantly, this significant increase has been driven by mental health issues becoming the most common cause of workplace absence in the UK, not the traditional issues of seasonal illness and musculoskeletal injuries. In total, FirstCare predicts that 4.6 million working days will be lost to the UK economy in December as a result of mental health issues – an increase of 13% in the last year alone. In contrast, coughs, colds and flu and musculoskeletal injuries have remained broadly constant for the last seven years.

This worrying trend is set against a backdrop of absence continuing to rise year-on-year since 2011, bucking a 20-year trend of decreases. In that time, mental health issues have increased by 71.4% since 2011, with FirstCare predicting that, if the current trend continues, 2017 will be the first year that mental health issues are the most common reason for workplace absence.

Anecdotal evidence from FirstCare suggests that mental health issues are exacerbated by the increased pressures on finances and difficulties in balancing work and family life at this time of year. This goes against the widely held belief that seasonal costs and colds, plus over exuberance at the office Christmas Party, are to blame for people’s absence at this time of year.

Commenting on the findings, David Hope, CEO of FirstCare said: “Many of us look to the festive period with great anticipation, filling our calendars with work Christmas parties and gatherings with friends.

However, we should not forget that for some it is a highly stressful period. Many people feel increased financial pressures and find it more difficult than usual to balance work and family life. These are not new triggers for mental health problems developing, but become very acute in December.

Employers should be alert to this, and spot the signs of mental ill health early, before it develops into a long-term condition. Providing appropriate support for employees during this period will help to avoid disruption to work streams and projects, and to other members of staff who will be impacted by colleagues taking time off due to mental ill health.”

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