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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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Stress now most common cause of sickness absence at work


Stress is now the biggest cause of long-term absence among UK workers across all sectors, overtaking cancer as the main reason for taking time off due to sickness.

But according to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and private health insurance provider, Simplyhealth, staff absence in the public sector have rocketed as worries over job cuts, pension changes and pay freezes take their toll.


Half of all public sector organisations reported an increase in absence as a result of stress compared to just a third of manufacturers, with state employees blaming anxiety over job security and working conditions.

Jill Miller, a CIPD adviser, said: "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."
Overall, the CIPD survey revealed that staff absence in the public sector has declined over the past year, suggesting workers were falling victim to ‘presenteeism’ or coming to work even if they were unwell.
Nonetheless, the research showed public sector absence was still running higher than in private sector services firms, at 9.1 days per year compared to 7.1 days. Among manufacturers, absence was just 5.7 days per year.

One researcher suggested that the situation could indicate that public sector staff took more time off because they were still more secure in their jobs than those in the private sector – even though they were more likely to lose them.

Author Profile Picture
Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

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