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The Guardian Katie Allen 5th October 2011

Stress now commonest cause of long-term sick leave – report • Stress at work escalates as employers plan redundancies

• Managers need to regain trust of employees, says CIPD

!
Diminishing job security has pushed up levels of stress-related long-term absence. It has also led to more employees reporting for work while sick, to avoid being targeted for redundancy
Photograph: Robert Kent Canada Inc./RK Studio/Dean Sanderson

Worries about job losses have helped stress become the most common cause of long-term sick leave in Britain, according to a report that underlines the pressures on workers in a deteriorating labour market. Stress has overtaken other reasons for long-term absence such as repetitive strain injury and medical conditions such as cancer. Workers blame workloads and management styles, according the survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and healthcare provider Simplyhealth.
The report highlights the strong links between job security and stress levels, with employers that are planning redundancies most likely to see a rise in mental health problems among staff. Such problems appear particularly acute in the shrinking public sector with half of employers reporting an increase in stress-related absence over the past year.
The report praised many workplaces for increasing their focus on worker well-being despite squeezed budgets. Counselling services were being offered by almost three-quarters of the 592 employers surveyed. But CIPD adviser Jill Miller seized on evidence of the downturn's repercussions for mental health to urge employers to do more to reassure nervous staff.
"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," she 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 findings come as another report identified a slowing jobs market. Employers gloomy about the economic outlook are wary of hiring new staff, according to the latest jobs report from the
Recruitment Employment Confederation and KPMG.

Permanent and temporary work placements rose at their slowest pace for more than two years, according to its September survey of recruiters and employers.
With demand for staff rising only slightly last month and economic worries showing no sign of abating, placements could soon start to fall, KPMG warned.
"Surely it's only a matter of time now before we move from a growth position to one of a contracting jobs market," said Bernard Brown, head of business services at KPMG.
The next official data on UK unemployment, due in a week, is expected to show a further deterioration in the jobs market. Last month's figures showed unemployment rising back above 2.5m, mainly due to a sharp rise in joblessness among the young.
With more job losses in the pipeline many workers appear wary of being targetted in redundancy schemes and are struggling into work even when sick, according the CIPD report, which covers nearly 2 million workers. More than a quarter of employers surveyed said the numbers of people coming into work when ill had risen in the last year. The authors warn that employers should tackle this culture of "presenteeism" or risk losing out because illness passes to colleagues and sick staff work less effectively, can take longer to recover and may be more prone to costly mistakes.
"Presenteeism is also a sign of anxiety. Failure by organisations to address employees' concerns may lead to mental health problems and costly longer-term consequences," the report warned.
In fact, organisations reporting an increase in presenteeism over the past year were more likely to report an increase in stress-related absence over the same period.
But employees may be loathe to stay away. Half of employers use employee absence records as part of their criteria for selecting for redundancy, the report said.
Time off is money
UK employers estimate that they lose an average £673 per employee per year because of time away from work for reasons ranging from serious illness to stress and family responsibilities, according to the 2011 CIPD/Simplyhealth absence report. That is up from £600 in 2010.
The public sector has the highest average absence at 9.1 days per employee per year, but that is down slightly from 9.6 days a year ago. The non-profit sector is next at 8.8 days per employee while in the private sector absence stands at 7.1 days per employee per year. The average for the UK as a whole was 7.7 days per employee per year, unchanged from 2010.
Stress was the biggest cause of long-term absence for the first time in 12 years the survey has been running. Even for manual workers it has overtaken musculoskeletal problems such as neck strain and is now level with acute medical conditions. Among non-manual staff stress has overtaken acute medical conditions.…...

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