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Stress becomes main cause of employee absence as economy hits job security

Stress has become the biggest cause of non-manual employee absence for the first time, as job security concerns increase.

The research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth, found that employers planning to make redundancies in the next six months are significantly more likely to report an increase in stress related employee absence, compared to those employers not planning to make job cuts.

Public sector organisations have been most affected by an increase in stress related absence, as budget cuts, pay freezes and a reduction in pension benefits have led to concerns over job security.

Commenting on the report, titled Absence Management, Dr Jill Miller, 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."

Offering advice to employers, Dr Miller adds: "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."

According to Simplyhealth, almost half of employers have a wellbeing strategy in place, with 73 per cent offering counselling services, and a further 69 per cent providing an Employee Assistance Programme, which allows access to information and advice on workplace issues.

Commenting, Gill Phipps, HR spokesperson for Simplyhealth said: "With many organisations looking for ways to save money, employee health and wellbeing shouldn't be over looked and should remain at the heart of the company. Benefits that engage employees do not have to be expensive. By introducing a recognition scheme or equipping leaders with the skills they need to care for the health and wellbeing of their teams, employers can make small, affordable changes that make a positive difference."

Overall, employee absence levels for the private sector have increased over the last year from an average of 6.6 days in 2010 to an average of 7.1 days in this year's survey, while public sector absence levels actually decreased from 9.6 days to 9.1 days.