Health & Safety

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Stress Tops Sickness Absence Chart

2 November 2011

For the first time, stress has topped the list of reasons for long-term sickness absence among both manual and non-manual employees, according to the latest absence management survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and 'Simplyhealth'.

unhappy black man

For manual workers, stress is now level with acute medical conditions and has superseded musculoskeletal problems to become the chief cause of long-term absence. Among non-manual staff, stress has moved ahead of acute medical conditions.

Mental Health Linked to Job Security

The survey, published in October 2011, also reveals a close connection between job security and mental-health problems. More than half of employers planning to make redundancies in the next six months reported an increase in mental-health problems among their staff; however, of those employers that are not planning job-cuts, just under a third reported an increase in mental-health issues.

Organisations preparing to make redundancies were also more likely to witness a rise in presenteeism (32%, compared with 27% of those who had no redundancies planned). Those respondents that had noted an increase in presenteeism were also more likely to report a rise in stress-related absence over the same period (49%, compared with 33% of those who did not report an increase in people coming to work ill).

Among public-sector organisations, half reported a rise in stress-related absence, with many respondents highlighting organisational change and restructuring, including job cuts, as the number-one cause of stress at work. Job insecurity is also reported as a more common cause of work-related stress in the public sector in this year’s survey (24%) compared with last year (10%), and is higher than in the private and non-profit sectors (both 14%).

CIPD says: Too many Employers take Stress Lightly

The CIPD stated the figures show that the cuts, job losses, restructurings and pay inequalities are having more than just an economic effect. They are having a serious impact on people's health. Unfortunately, there is still a tendency among many employers to think of it as ‘just stress’ but this is a real issue, which can devastate people’s lives and tear apart families.

Commenting on the current pressures afflicting the public sector that 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.

More than a quarter of organisations (29%) – including more than two-fifths in the public sector – said they have increased their focus on employee well-being and health promotion as a result of the impact of the economic turbulence.

Employers can make a Positive Difference

'Simplyhealth', which conducted the survey in partnership with the CIPD, stated that with many organisations looking for ways to save money, employee health and well-being should not be overlooked and should remain at the heart of the company. Benefits that engage employees do not have to be expensive. By introducing a recognition scheme, or equipping leaders with the skills they need to care for the health and well-being of their teams, employers can make small, affordable changes that make a positive difference.