Financial problems can affect mental health

By Janice Roberts

Financial stress and its impact on mental health has seen a rise in absenteeism, poor work performance and a lowered concentration span at work, says corporate healthcare consultancy Alexander Forbes Health.

Myrna Sachs, head of Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions

Thirty-five percent of all temporary incapacity leave applications received at present are due to mental and behavioural issues, according to data from Alexander Forbes Health. Statistics from the World Federation for Mental Health show that on average 36 workdays are lost per episode and that more than 10% of the employed populations have taken time off work for depression.

“Our data reveals a steady increase in the number of South African employees suffering from mental health problems over the past five years. And when financial difficulties and mental health problems are combined, you create a spiralling vicious circle where one compounds the other,” said Myrna Sachs, head of Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions.

“When you have poor mental health, organising and managing financial issues becomes trickier. This in turn creates a sense of fear, anxiety and worry, once again affecting your overall mental health.”

“Mental health problems including depression, stress, anxiety, panic disorders, result in absenteeism. Looking after our mental health is therefore key to our overall wellbeing. Unfortunately, financial problems can and do affect mental health,” said Sachs.

“When people have debt which is causing them to worry, they don’t focus on work; they might be present but they are not productive. Poor work performance has a knock on effect on promotions and bonuses which further reduces earnings progression.”

Sachs said chronic financial strain could lead to serious psychiatric and cognitive problems or depression.

One group of clients with more than 30 000 employees received 4 004 applications over the past year for extended sick leave for more than 36 in a three-year cycle. On average, of these extended sick leave applications, 25% were due to mental and behavioural disorders. The average duration of the incidents for these applications was 18 days.

The next highest was 9% for musculoskeletal problems. “This is a revelation because it shows how unhealthy we are as a society – poor mental health is costing the economy billions.”

Programmes to assist employers in curbing sick absenteeism have proved successful, with some Alexander Forbes Health clients reporting savings of up to 33% man-days per year.  This equates to a saving of one day for every three days taken.

Data from another Alexander Forbes Health client revealed their staff were taking six to 10 days leave a year, when more than five years ago, this was just two to three days a year. “A perpetual user can take 30 sick days a year and end up taking unpaid leave the following year, this ends up costing the employee money and has a ripple effect on their finances.

Absenteeism management can help companies to focus on what the real causes are.

“Identify high risk individuals and between HR and line managers, help them address their issues using absenteeism benchmarking.”

Sachs said companies are bottom-line driven and do not always quantify the benefit of employee wellness and absenteeism management programmes.

“Direct and indirect savings on absenteeism in the workplace are proven to be up to six times what you pay for the absenteeism management.”

She added: “Companies are putting in debt management and retirement planning programmes at work but there is a need for a holistic approach to an employee’s well-being. Financial well-being should be a key component. It doesn’t matter how many spa days you give your staff; you need to address what really matters most to them.”

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