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Staff sickness absence levels dropped by nearly a day in 2012 compared to the previous year, according to the annual Absence Management survey from the CIPD and Simply Health.Survey data from 667 employers, showed that the average number of sick days across all sectors fell from 7.7 days in 2011 to 6.8 this year.Sick leave in the public sector has dropped to its lowest level for 10 years as employees took 7.9 days off ill compared to 9.1 in 2011. Absence has also fallen to 5.7 days in the private sector, down from 7.1 the year before.However, CIPD research advisor Dr Jill Miller warned employers to celebrate the improvement in figures with caution because “they may mask deeper problems in the workplace”.The reduction in sick days coincides with almost a third of employers reporting that more of their staff are coming into work ill, also known as presenteeism. Stress remains the top reason for workers to take sick leave, as the percentage of employers reporting a rise in stress-related absences crept up to 40 per cent in 2012 from 39 per cent last year. It became the top reason for taking sick leave in 2011 replacing musculoskeletal problems.The top three overall causes of stress were found to be heavy workloads, management styles and non-work factors such as problems with family.Meanwhile the percentage of employers reporting mental health problems among employees, such as anxiety and depression, has more than doubled from 21 per cent in 2009 to 44 per cent in 2012.Worryingly, organisations that saw an increase in presenteeism over the past year were also more likely to see a rise in stress-related absence. The data showed that of the employers reporting rises in presenteeism 52 per cent also saw increases in stress-related absence, while among employers that did not report presenteeism, only 38 per cent saw this type of absence rise.The CIPD said that the suggested link between presenteeism and both stress and mental health problems underlined the need for organisations to take pre-emptive action to address employees’ concerns in times of challenge, uncertainty and change.However, despite the growing problem of stress, almost a third of employers said they were not doing anything to reduce it.Miller said: “On the face of it, the findings from this year’s survey present some positive news. But we must air caution before celebrating lower absence levels because they may be masking deeper problems in the workplace. “This year sees a continued increase in presenteeism which can have a damaging effect on organisations’ productivity. Not only can illnesses be passed on to other colleagues, but ill employees are likely to work less effectively than usual, may be more prone to making costly mistakes and take longer to recover from their illnesses.”She urged employers to examine whether lower absence levels are as a result of more effective absence management or if they reflect the negative impact of presenteeism.
Responding to the results, Cary Cooper, director of Robertson Cooper and professor of organizational psychology and health at Lancaster University, told PM that the findings tallied with research his firm had done with 39,000 employees. This research showed that 28 per cent of them had suffered sickness presenteeism. “It’s being driven by job insecurity,” he said. “We need employee assistance programmes, or counselling, to help workers cope. For example, the way people are managed is damaging, heavy workloads are damaging and a lack of power over decision-making, also known as micromanaging, is damaging.“We need more stress and wellbeing audits to identify where the problems are. For example, to show where there’s a long hours culture or bullying managers, or a glass ceilings holding back female employees. "Once you’ve identified where the issues are HR can start dealing with them. HR also needs to collect data after any intervention to see if it worked.”Cooper also said that line managers were a “critical focal point” in terms of reducing stress in the workplace. “We should recruit socially and interpersonally skilled managers, rather than just hiring managers with technical competency. This is critical during recessionary times.”
Whether stress has its origin at work or at home surely it benefits the employer to equip employees with tools to deal with stress and support when they suffer from stress related conditions. Recent reports show 40% of employees have no access to OHS services and 28% employers provide no stress management training.
It is interesting to note that David Kinsley comments most sick notes mention "family stress" not workplace related stress where stress is the given reason. I would question whether this is a true reflection, or just an example of employees being afraid to share the real reasons for their stress. I am not sure how many of us would say that we are stressed by practices in our workplace and actually expect those to be addressed in our favour...when you are stressed the last thing you need is the added aggravation involved in this kind of thing, so I wonder how many just say it is home and hope things improve at work.
I agree wholeheartedly with Ruth J.<br/>We work very closely with our staff and get them support/counselling a.s.a.p.("spending to save" for us to get people well again where there is a complete lack of NHS services). We are open minded to work issues and conduct ISRAs where appropriate- so have a good insight into the reasons for illness. Psychological illnesses - including "family stress" on fit notes - is now the highest reason for sickness absence. In an organisation of 360 people I have only encountered 2 cases in the past 5 years that were attributable to "work stresses". A "tidal wave" indeed......
Having just read the report and reply from Ruth Jackson I would just like to say, as a person who works with workplace health for the NHS, that maybe Mrs Jackson should look at how her organisation could do more to reduce stress of their workforce rather than comment on the ‘inadequacies of the NHS’ The NHS does more to help reduce stress within the workplace than any other organisation that I know of. All for free I might add. You don’t need to turn to private firms to pay for these programmes just check with your local NHS public health department. That’s if the government hasn’t closed it down.
I may interest readers to learn that there is an European Social Fund funded project called Wellbeing through Work delivering in the Swansea, Neath Prot Talbot and Bridgend areas. Wellbeing through Work is partnership between Remploy and the NHS to support people with, or at risk of developing, a work limiting health condition or disability stay in or return to work. As this article and posts suggest individuals present with a wide range of issues relating to stress at home and in the workplace. Anyone intersted in learning more can visit the website: www.wellbeingthroughwork.org.uk.
Have your say...I do not think that the fact that someone is off with stress related to their homelife means that this is not connected to their work in anyway. Most people can cope with some stress in one area of their life, if this is related to their home life then often they see work as a break from that stress, a chance for normality. Where their coping mechanisms fail is when work does not offer that normality and starts to add to the stress.
I would like to know how 'presenteeism' is recorded and measured. Absence is fairly straightforward (although the real reason may not always be declared) but how should we categorise those who are present in the workplace?
This is much what staff have been saying for some time - I would like to hear from organisations that have tackled this issue and hear how they did this
While I agree that stress is the number one reason for absence it is also worth pointing out that not all stress related absences are work related. The experience in my company is that the employee's coping mechanisms seem no longer so robust as they once were so that we now encounter employees being signed off work for considerable periods of time relating to problems at home. While not wanting to diminish these problems it is worth noting that this is a relatively new issue and not one that employers can always adequately deal with when not work related. Neither do we have the funds to pay for private mental health services to assist the employee to shore up the inadequacies of the NHS in dealing with this tidal wave.