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Stress main reason for long-term sickness absence

According to the latest survey released by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), stress is now at the top of the list of reasons for long-term sickness absence amongst manual and non-manual workers. The stress experienced by manual workers is now responsible for more long-term absences than musculoskeletal problems. Stress is now ahead of acute medical conditions with non-manual staff.

The results of the survey also indicated that job security and mental health problems are related. Over 50 per cent of employers that are planning to decrease their workforce in the next six months reported that mental health problems among staff were higher. For firms not planning redundancies, mental health issues were only reported by one-third of respondents.

Companies planning redundancies also reported higher rates of presenteeism, to the tune of 32 per cent, as opposed to 27 per cent for companies not planning redundancies. The responding companies, which noted higher presenteeism, were more likely to report an increase in stress-related absences among workers during the same period. A full 49 per cent reported this was the case in their organizations, as opposed to 33 per cent who did not report an increase in workers coming in even when ill.

About half of public sector organisations reported higher numbers of stress-related absences and a number of respondents indicated organisational change and restructuring, including job losses, as the main source of stress on the job. Job insecurity is a common cause of work-related stress in the public sector according to the survey (24 per cent), compared with the previous year’s numbers (10 per cent).

CIPD advisor Dr Jill Miller stated: “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.”

Brendan Barber, the TUC General Secretary, said that too many employers fail to appreciate the effects of stress on workers. “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 29 per cent of respondents – including more than two-fifths in the public sector – said they have addressed the issue of employee health and well-being, as it pertains to uncertain economic conditions.