New research has shown the detrimental impact that COVID-19 restrictions and fall-out from the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health, with absenteeism costing the UK £14 billion in the last year alone.

A new study by Westfield Health, a health insurance and wellbeing solutions provider, has revealed that absenteeism cost UK businesses £14 billion in 2020.

This meant the cost of absenteeism rose by £1.3 billion from previous recorded figures in 2019 – a testament to the shakeup that 2020 caused to employees’ working lives.

As such, many businesses chose to further invest in the wellbeing of their staff with over four in five businesses (81 per cent) reporting they have a renewed focus on the mental and physical health of employees because of the pandemic.

On average, last year, employees took 3.19 days off for mental health-related issues which was up from 2.90 days in 2019. Overall, absences climbed by 10 per cent during the course of the year.

Alongside absenteeism, the research revealed that presenteeism was also a significant problem for UK businesses – with over one in three workers (36 per cent) revealing that their workplace productivity has been negatively affected by mental health every week.

Over three-quarters (76 per cent) admitted their productivity has stagnated or fallen since 2019.

When asked about what could be contributing to a decline in mental health, over a fifth (22 per cent) were concerned about losing their job, and over a quarter (26 per cent) are becoming increasingly anxious about work.

The pandemic has also left workers prone to loneliness (21 per cent), poor morale (34 per cent) and less engaged overall in comparison to the previous year (27 per cent).

As such, there are several areas where employees are asking for more support. Most notably, almost three in 10 employees wanted to see flexible working and working from home implemented as long-term options (28 per cent). Over a quarter (26 per cent) wanted to see more mental health support whilst 28 per cent wanted their working premises to be more COVID-secure.

It appears that organisations are taking this on board as a third (36 per cent) of companies reported that they plan to increase spend on wellbeing programmes in the coming year. Over half of HR leaders (52 per cent) stated that this investment has been driven by wellbeing becoming more important at their company.

Dave Capper, CEO, Westfield Health, said:

As we know, Covid-19 is having a huge impact on employees’ mental health, the scars from which may not be visible, let alone heal, for many years and have arguably changed our connection to work and colleagues permanently.

The findings from our research paint a worrying picture for workplace productivity, with the economic impact of mental health clearly deepening. However, the way businesses have and are responding to this challenge gives us hope, as when we come out the other side of this pandemic, there will be a long-term commitment to support employees’ mental and physical wellbeing.

This has seen an increased openness to address a once-taboo topic and demands a greater focus by employers on wellbeing, as the link between it and business recovery becomes clearer.

Mr. Capper continued:

Despite the welcome news of the vaccine roll-out, it is likely that the HR and wellbeing teams will be focussing on the role their business can play in the mental wellbeing of their teams. However, this research shows that the implications for a business are too big for a company’s HR team to navigate alone.

In 2021, companies will need to support wellbeing from the top down. They know that the talent in their teams is essential to recovery, and by taking steps to protect that talent mentally and physically, they will be ensuring a healthy future for all concerned.

*This research was obtained from Westfield Health’s report ‘Coping with Covid’.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.