Healthy living

Stress number one cause of days off work

Stress number one cause of days off work Fuelled by job insecurity

For the first time, stress is now the most common cause of long-term absence from work, according to a new report.

An annual survey of nearly 600 organisations found that stress has overtaken musculoskeletal problems such as back pain to become the top cause of long-term absence among manual workers.

Similarly, among non-manual workers, stress has overtaken acute medical conditions such as heart disease as the number one cause of long-term absence.

Long-term absence is defined as missing four weeks or more of work due to illness.

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the main causes of stress in the workplace was fear of redundancy, particularly in the public sector.

Nearly a quarter of public sector organisations reported stress as a cause of long-term absence from work, compared with 14 per cent in the private sector.

Just over half (51%) of employers planning to make redundancies in the next six months were more likely to report an increase in mental health problems among their staff. This compared to 32 per cent among employers not planning to lay off staff.

The survey was carried out for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and health firm Simply Health.

The survey also found that 50 per cent of public sector organisations reported an increase in stress-related absence from work, while a quarter of employers reported an increase in the number of people turning up for work ill, known as presenteeism, which can also be a cause of stress.

Dr Jill Miller, a CIPD adviser, 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."

This article was published on Wed 5 October 2011

Image © konradbak -

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