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June 23, 2010

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Long-term absence due to stress on the decline

The proportion of long-term sickness-absence cases attributed to stress has fallen by 10 per cent in the past four years, according to research by insurance provider Unum.

Stress now accounts for 23 per cent of all long-term absences compared with 33 per cent in 2006. Unum’s chief medical officer, Professor Michael O’Donnell, suggested two possible reasons for the fall in absence caused by stress: either companies are gradually tackling stress issues in the workplace, or employees prefer to be diagnosed with something other than ‘stress’, owing to the perceived stigma surrounding the condition.

While stress may be less of a cause of absence, statistics published last week by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) point to a rise in the overall number of people signed off work on long-term sick leave.

Said Professor O’Donnell: “We need to be careful not to be premature in drawing conclusions from the ONS figures. It is inevitable that job losses will include those with mental ill health, including stress. Additionally, normal anxiety about job loss is rational and should not be confused with mental ill health.”

The stigma attached to mental ill health was recently highlighted by mental-health charity Rethink, following a poll of more than 2000 adults. According to the findings, six in ten British workers admitted that they would feel uncomfortable talking to their line manager if they had a mental-health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

Fear of losing their job was the main reason people gave for feeling uncomfortable, closely followed by concern about colleagues finding out about their condition. Nearly one in five (18 per cent) respondents said they would be concerned that their line manager would think they were “mad”, or overlook them for promotion (17 per cent).

Commenting on the reluctance of people to be open about stress, Professor O’Donnell said: “It is a sad fact that stigma against mental ill health still exists at work, and many people do not feel able to talk about such problems with their employers. It’s important to acknowledge that it is natural to experience stress, and there are ways to manage it, including: making use of employee assistance programmes, which are increasingly offered through the workplace; careful financial planning and organisation; and communication with line managers, or HR, if the employee feels comfortable to do so.” €ᄄ€ᄄ

He added: “There is much evidence to show that being in work is better for your health. We should therefore be very careful before encouraging people to go off sick with stress and into the very situation they are most frightened of – that is, being out of work.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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