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Stress & Absence
by Philip - Saturday, 4 May 2013, 06:20 PM
Stress tops list of long-term absence reasons

StressStress is now the number one cause of long-term sickness absence according to new research from the CIPD and Simplyhealth.

This year’s Absence Management survey from the CIPD reveals that stress has taken over from musculoskeletal problems as the most common cause of absence for both manual and non-manual workers. Almost 40% of employers said that sickness absence due to mental health problems had increased in the last year, while only 12% said it had decreased.

Several commentators have highlighted the link between the rise in mental health problems and job insecurity. In the CIPD study, employers planning redundancies were more likely to report an increase in stress-related absence (51%) than other employers (32%).

The research suggests that tougher workloads, having a “bad” boss and the fear of being made redundant are among the top factors piling the pressure on UK employees. An increased strain on family life and relationships, largely due to money worries in the current economic climate, may also be adding to a “vicious circle” of workers’ woes, according to some experts.

There is a particular increase in stress-related sickness absence among public sector organisations, with 50% of respondents reporting an increase.

Overall, employee absence levels have remained relatively stable, with an average of 7.7 days lost per employee. Public sector absence stood at 9.1 days, a slight improvement on last year, while private sector absence was 7.1 days, slightly worse.

CIPD adviser Jill Miller said: “The survey this year shows that stress is for the first time the number one cause of long-term sickness absence, highlighting the heightened pressure many people feel under in the workplace as a result of the prolonged economic downturn.

“Stress is a particular challenge in the public sector where the sheer amount of major change and restructuring would appear to be the root cause. To a large degree, managing stress is about effective leadership and people management, particularly during periods of major change and uncertainty.

“Line managers need to focus on regaining the trust of their employees and openly communicating throughout the change process to avoid unnecessary stress and potential absences. They also need to be able to spot the early signs of people being under excessive pressure or having difficulty coping at work and to provide appropriate support.”

Gill Phipps, HR spokesperson at Simplyhealth, added: “Stress can often have a negative effect on the workplace, which can result in loss of productivity and disengaged employees. It’s therefore encouraging that almost half of employers have a wellbeing strategy in place.”

The survey also revealed some evidence of an increase in ‘presenteeism’ with 28% of employers saying that employees were now more likely to come to work despite being ill. Organisations where presenteeism was noted were more likely to have also experienced an upturn in stress.

People Management Magazine; 5 October 2011.
The Daily Telegraph; Friday 14 October 2011.

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