Middle-aged male manager smiling at younger employee

Sickness absence and return to work trends

Spotlight on mental health


Employers are facing a challenge. Mental ill-health and presenteeism are increasing – costing organisations and the economy billions of pounds a year1, even though overall sickness absence rates have fallen to record lows over the past 20 years2.


The severity of the problem is underlined by recent statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This reveals stress, anxiety or depression now accounts for more than half (57%) of all days lost to ill-health. Left unchecked, poor mental health at work could have a disastrous impact not only on businesses and the economy, but on a personal and societal level3.

Employers and the government recognise the need to take urgent action, but getting to grips with the factors contributing to mental ill-health can be complex.

In this report we examine our own comprehensive rehabilitation services and return to work data to provide insights into the mental health and wellbeing issues facing UK workers today.

In 2018, more than 7,000 people accessed Unum’s rehabilitation services in the UK. Of these, 1,670 tapped into our dedicated return-to-work support. Reflecting the HSE’s findings, mental health was the most common concern.

Drawing on our years of experience and expertise, this report drills deeper into mental health problems and suggests possible strategies employers can use to help ensure good mental health in the workplace.


Peter O'Donnell, CEO Unum UK


Download the Sickness absence and return to work trends report.



1. Thriving at Work: The Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers, 2017, pg.20

2. Office for National Statistics, Sickness absence falls to the lowest rate on record, 2019

3. HSE, Health and Safety at Work: Summary statistics for Great Britain 2018, pg.3