The recently released CIPD research revealing a rise in employee sick days is concerning confirmation that supporting mental health must be top-of-mind for every UK business leader.

As an HR expert partnering with organisations across sectors, I wanted to delve into these findings and provide practical guidance on fostering workplace wellbeing.

According to the CIPD report, the average number of sick days taken per employee has climbed to 7.8 annually - the highest level since tracking began in 2006-7.

Minor illnesses accounted for 27 per cent of short-term absence, followed by musculoskeletal injuries (17 per cent) and mental health issues (15 per cent).

With more than one in seven calendar days now lost to absence, this uptick signals a worrying decline in workforce health and has major implications for organisational productivity and costs. Tackling this issue through strategic mental health support must be a business imperative.

A key driver of growing sick leave is the ongoing impact Covid-19 has had on mental health. CIPD's research shows stress, depression, and anxiety remain the leading causes of long-term absence, accounting for 51 per cent of lost workdays.

Though lockdown restrictions have ended, struggles with isolation, grief, financial problems, and health worries continue to take a toll. Overcoming the trauma of the pandemic requires dedicated mental health support for the long haul.

On top of pandemic-related issues, employees are now facing intensifying cost-of-living strains. A total of 62 per cent of UK workers report feeling stressed about finances, with ballooning inflation, rising energy bills, and falling real wages causing serious money worries.

Financial anxiety often manifests in poor mental health including increased stress, insomnia, and relationship problems. This crisis will likely worsen the mental health impact of the pandemic. Businesses must address these compounded pressures proactively.

Worryingly, CIPD found fear of stigma still deters employees from disclosing mental health reasons for absence. Outdated attitudes portraying mental illness as a personal failure persist. This prevents people from getting the time off and support they need.

Transforming workplace culture to encourage openness without judgement is critical. Through training and modelling empathetic behaviour, managers can normalise conversations about mental health, making employees feel safe to ask for help. Tackling stigma improves reporting and access to support.

How should managers cultivate a mentally healthy environment and empower employees to thrive? Here are four key actions:

1. Implement regular 1-on-1 employee check-ins

Consistent one-on-one meetings provide a trusted space for employees to share mental health challenges and managers to offer support early. Even brief weekly check-ins demonstrate care.

Through active listening without judgement, managers can identify issues and direct staff to resources like EAP counselling. Handled with empathy, 1-on-1s build trust and prevent small problems becoming crises.

2. Invest in management and mental health training

Quality training equips managers with vital skills for supporting mental health issues, like recognising symptoms, handling difficult conversations with compassion, and signposting help.

Learning mental health literacy reduces stigma by framing these conditions as treatable health problems requiring accommodation, not excuses. This empowers managers to respond effectively to needs.

3. Facilitate peer support systems

Peer networks allow employees facing similar challenges to share experiences and advice confidentially. Many find comfort in realising they aren't alone in their mental health struggle.

Managers should help establish peer support mechanisms like mental health employee resource groups. This gives staff an additional avenue to obtain help from colleagues who understand their situation.

4. Hold regular mental health and wellbeing seminars

Interactive workshops focused on mental health literacy, coping strategies, resilience, and work-life balance provide employees with practical self-care skills.

Participation shows the organisation is serious about supporting mental wellbeing. Equipping staff with knowledge protects their health and conveys compassion.

Promoting workplace wellbeing: An essential investment

Fostering mental health requires persistent effort but pays off tremendously in terms of employee wellbeing, engagement, retention, and performance. As the CIPD concludes, supporting health is an investment, not a cost.

By making mental health a true priority today, business leaders can build resilience to weather crises, fulfil their duty of care to employees, and empower their organisations to thrive. The time to take action is now.