TUC says job losses have more than economic impact as research shows those working in the public sector are most at risk of overwork


Stress is now the number one cause of long-term sickness absence as employees struggle with heavy workloads and job loss worries, research from the CIPD and Simplyhealth has shown.

This year’s Absence Management survey reveals that stress has taken over from musculoskeletal problems as the top cause of absence for both manual and non-manual workers.

Nearly four in ten (39 per cent) of employers say that absence due to mental health problems has gone up in the last year, while only 12 per cent say that it has decreased.

There is a clear link between the rise in mental health problems and job security, with employers who are planning redundancies significantly more likely to report an increase in stress-related absence (51 per cent) than other employers (32 per cent).

There is a particular increase in stress-related absence among public sector organisations, with 50 per cent of these respondents reporting an increase.

Commenting on the survey, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “These figures show that the cuts, job losses, restructurings and pay inequalities are having more than just an economic effect. They are having a serious impact on people’s health.

“Unfortunately there is still a tendency amongst 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.

“Stress is also avoidable and the TUC endorses the view of the CIPD that more needs to be done to prevent it at both senior and line manager level.”

Overall, employee absence levels have remained relatively stable, with an average of 7.7 days lost per employee. Public sector absence stood at 9.1 days, a slight improvement on last year, while private sector absence was 7.1 days, slightly worse.

CIPD adviser Jill Miller said: “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.

“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.”

Gill Phipps, HR spokesperson at Simplyhealth, added: “Stress can often have a negative effect on the workplace, which can result in loss of productivity and disengaged employees.”

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