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Stress is number one cause of long-term absences

October 5 2011 - Stress has been identified as the most significant cause of long-term absence according to this year's CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management survey. Stress is now level with acute medical conditions among absent manual workers having overtaken musculoskeletal problems to become the most common cause of long-term absence. For non-manual employees, stress has moved ahead of acute medical conditions.

According to Dr Jill Miller, CIPD Adviser:

"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.

50% of respondents in the public sector reported an increase in stress, identifying amount of organizational change and restructuring as the number one cause of stress at work. They highlighted the impact of public sector cuts to jobs, pension benefits and pay freezes. They also reported job insecurity as a more common cause of work-related stress this year (24%) compared with last year (10%). Job insecurity is lower in the private (14%) and non-profit sectors (14%). 43% of public sector organizations said they would be making redundancies over the next 6 months because of budget cuts. This compared with 17% private sector respondents and 24% of non-profits.

Jill Miller said:

"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."

The link between job security and mental health problems is also highlighted in the survey with organizations planning redundancies over the next 6 months far more likely (51%) to report increased mental health problems among their employees than those who are not (32%). Organizations expecting redundancies in the coming six months were also more likely (32%) to report increased 'presenteeism' than those not expecting to make further redundancies(27%).

Gill Phipps, HR spokesperson for 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, with 73% offering counselling services and a further 69% providing an Employee Assistance Programme. These benefits allow employees access to information and advice on workplace issues, as well as emotional, psychological and personal issues, and can be a huge help during difficult times. Employers need to ensure that benefits such as these are communicated effectively to staff in order for employees to get the most from them.

"With many organisations looking for ways to save money, employee health and wellbeing shouldn’t be over looked 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 wellbeing of their teams, employers can make small, affordable changes that make a positive difference."

29% of responding organizations reported increased focus on employee wellbeing and health promotion as a result of the economic context. More than two-fifths of public sector respondents reported an increase in focus compared with just over a fifth of private sector participants.

More survey findings

  • Overall employee absence levels have stayed at 7.7 days per employee per year.
  • Absences in the public sector absence have fallen from 9.6 days per employee per year last year to 9.1 days this year.
  • Private sector absences have increased from 6.6 days in 2010 to 7.1 days this year.
  • 39% of employers reported an increase in stress-related absence, compared to just 12% reporting a decrease.
  • Absence levels are lowest among manufacturing and production organisations at 5.7 days per employee per year (6.9 days in 2010).
  • Absence levels among non-profit organisations absence have increased to 8.8 days (8.3 days last year).
  • 28%) of employers reported an increase in the number of people coming to work ill in the last 12 months.



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