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October 7, 2011

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Stress jumps to top of sickness-absence chart

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).

For manual workers, stress is now level with acute medical conditions and has superceded musculoskeletal problems to become the chief cause of long-term absence.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

The survey 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 per cent, compared with 27 per cent 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 per cent, compared with 33 per cent 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 per cent) compared with last year (10 per cent), and is higher than in the private and non-profit sectors (both 14 per cent).

Commenting on the current pressures afflicting the public sector, CIPD advisor Dr Jill Miller said: “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.”

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said too many employers take stress lightly. “These figures show that the cuts, job losses, restructurings and pay inequalities are having more than just an economic effect,” he explained. “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.”

More than a quarter of organisations (29 per cent) – 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.

Welcoming this finding, Gill Phipps, HR spokesperson for Simplyhealth, which conducted the survey in partnership with the CIPD, said: “With many organisations looking for ways to save money, employee health and well-being shouldn’t 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.”

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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12 years ago

Pt1 Is it a genuine case – or not? The problem with stress is that it is often doubted and ‘opinions’ are formed – usually wrong! There seems to be a severe lack of understanding by employers and sadly, some safety professionals about this subject. There are many ways to deal with this issue. However, look at the issue from purely from an employers point of veiw; Doesn’t it make good business sense that if your employees aren’t stressed-out they’re more productive!? Read the last paragraph!!

12 years ago

This is extremely worrying to read and I can only see this problem getting worst as there is more and more jobs being cut, and employees fear redundancies.

12 years ago

I thought stress related illness was the no.1 reseason for workplace absence over a decade ago. Indeed, I can remember a colleague commenting that stress had become the backache of the 90’s.

12 years ago

of course this ïllness” is top of the pops, its virtually impossible to diagnose. You will find its more in the public sector, where the employees tend to have it more cushy as regards to sickness and absence payments. they want to tery working in the private sector, then they might find out how to deal with the pressure of counting paper clips. Oh and of course its a big money spinner, boost the pension wont it.

12 years ago

I bet these figures are only from workers who get paid whilst off sick!!