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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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News: Sickness absence down, presenteeism and mental illness up

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Although average employee absence levels have dropped by as much as a day, job insecurity has led to a rise in presenteeism and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

According to a survey conducted among 667 employers by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and health insurance provider Simplyhealth, staff absence levels now stand at 6.8 days, down from 7.7 per person per year in 2011.
 
The fall was most marked in the public sector, where absence rates were at the lowest for 10 years at an average of 7.9 days. The figure compares with 5.7 days among private sector workers, which have also seen absence levels drop.
 
Dr Jill Miller, the CIPD’s research adviser, said: “Continuing economic uncertainty and fears over job security appear to be taking their toll on employees. We are seeing employees struggling into work to demonstrate their commitment, suggesting presenteeism can be a sign of anxiety.”
 
But failing to address the issue was likely to affect morale and could cause or exacerbate stress or mental health problems. Therefore, she urged employers to explore whether lower absence levels were actually the result of effective management or presenteeism instead.
 
“Overall, a proactive approach to supporting employee well-being and managing absence, which includes training managers in how to manage people effectively and early access to occupational health services, remains critical for success,” Miller warned.
 
Rising stress levels
 
The ‘Absence Management’ survey revealed that a third of employers were seeing an increase in the number of staff who were going into work when ill, with the situation particularly prevalent among organisations that expected to make redundancies over the next six months.
 
But taking time off due to stress was also on the rise, according to two out of five employers, as were mental health issues such as anxiety and depression (44%).
 
In fact, stress was cited as the most common cause of long-term absence for the second year running, while twice the number of employers saw an increase in mental illness as in 2009.
 
Tellingly, however, those organisations that had noticed growing levels of presenteeism over the last year were also more likely to spot an increase in stress-related absence or mental health problems (52% and 62% respectively compared with 38% and 35% that had not noticed a rising presenteeism issue).
 
As for the main causes of stress at work, workload was the biggest (and growing) problem (57% compared with 48% last year), followed by organisational change and restructuring (31%) and management style (36%).
 
But just under a third of employers were not doing anything to address the situation, although some 55% now had well-being strategies in place compared with 46% in 2011 and 2010 and 33% in 2009.

2 Responses

  1. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

     Just done some bad analysis of this para:

    Tellingly, however, those organisations that had noticed growing levels of presenteeism over the last year were also more likely to spot an increase in stress-related absence or mental health problems (52% and 62% respectively compared with 38% and 35% that had not noticed a rising presenteeism issue).

    Translated :  "Work makes you ill"

    Don’t tell Dave Cameron – shh ! 🙂

    Peter

  2. News: Sickness absence down, presenteeism and mental illness up

    Hi Cath

    Presenteeism is up quite considerably and in many organisations is more of a problem than absenteeism. However, it is still not easy to quantify but is very costly to organisations.

    As you note this is the second year that stress remains the top reason for long-term absence and when it is not being addressed by some employers it will continue to rise. The main solution is to address stress within the workplace with a proactive approach by ensuring all managers are trained so that they can identify and manage stress – this should ideally be by stress management professionals. Once managers have been trained, then a Wellbeing Strategy should be developed to ensure that wellbeing is addressed on a regular basis and not as a one off wellbeing event.

    With National Stress Awareness Day on Wednesday 7th November 2012, employers should be looking to develop an effective Stress and Wellbeing Policy for their staff. Good information and free downloads at http://www.isma.org.uk/national-stress-awareness-day/

    Best wishes

    Jessica

    (Jessica Smyrl, YSM Solutions)

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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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