mental health
9th November 2015

Stress is a major cause of workplace absenteeism; with workloads and management styles accounting for the main contributing factors.

The CIPD’s (Chartered institute of Personnel and Development) Absence Management Report, 2013 cites stress as the most common cause of long term workplace absenteeism, accounting for 10.4 million days 2011/2012. (HSE Report, Labour Force Survey 2012)

Defined by the HSE, (2007) Stress is “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them. There is a clear distinction between pressure, which can create a ‘buzz’ and be a motivating factor, and stress, which can occur when this pressure becomes excessive.”

15% of people have reported that they find their job either very or extremely stressful (Psychosocial working conditions in Britain in 2010) and in 2012 40% of employers reported an increase in stress related absences with 24 days being the average length of sick leave taken for stress related absence. (CIPD Absence management report, 2013)

How can stress affect my business?

Research undertaken by the CIPD found that stress within the workplace can lead to higher rates of accident and injury when individuals are experiencing high levels of stress; they are more likely to have or cause an accident. This may be a direct result of a lack of concentration or motivation, forgetfulness, or other stress-related mechanisms such as time pressures or workloads.

The CIPD found that the results of any stress related incidents were dependent on the workplace itself; minor accidents included slips and trips where more serious ones include machine or chemical incidents.

For example, in the offshore oil industry the HSE found that approximately 70% of common work related stressors were also potential root causes of accidents when caused by human error this could lead to situations in which the health or even lives of a number of people are put at risk.

Whatever the sector, the costs of accidents might include: the costs of sickness absence, damage to machines or property and potential damage payouts to the individual and others affected.

As well as the risk associated with accidents the mental health charity Mind undertook research in 2010 that suggested that stress had forced one in five workers (19%) to call in sick, yet the vast majority of these (93%) say they had lied to their boss about the real reason for not turning up.

Ultimately research suggests that going to work on a daily basis is good for our physical and mental health and well-being . Healthy employees are three times more productive and take up to nine times less sick leave than unhealthy employees thus demonstrating how organisations can benefit from effective management of stress in the workplace.

Your responsibilities as an employer

As is current practice with other hazards and risks within working environments; all employers have legal responsibilities under both the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees whilst at work. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees through an assessment of the risk of stress within your work place.

The HSE have produced “Management Standards” which define certain characteristics of an organisation where the risks from work related stress can be effectively managed and controlled.

They also cover six key areas of work design that unless you manage them appropriately are associated with poor health and well-being, lower productivity and increased sickness absence. These standards are:

  1. Demand – workloads, work patterns and the working environment
  2. Control – what input your employee(s) have in the way they undertake their work
  3. Support – What support is available from you, the employer in regards to encouragement and resources and their line managers and colleagues
  4. Relationships – how you promote working positively and manage unacceptable behaviours
  5. Role – Whether people understand what is expected of them and their role within your organisation
  6. Change – how you manage and communicate any changes to the organisation

There are also a number of tools that you are available that you can promote as an organisation that are known to reduce stress and anxiety which include:

  • Promoting the benefits of regular physical activity, this includes corporate gym memberships.
  • Being more sociable, either by promoting an organisational social club or other activities
  • Employee Assistance Programmes which consist of telephone or face to face based support which provides advice relating to a wide variety of topics such as lifestyle, money and health
  • Becoming healthier organisations and participating in for example wellbeing challenges that foster team spirits as well as providing tangible health benefits or identifying wellbeing champions.
  • Holding stress management workshops that educate employees on the sources of stress, the effects on health and how they can reduce stress.
  • Provision of Indoor plants or proximity to windows (research has shown that proximity to windows and indoor plants has had an impact on employee’s job satisfaction through reducing anxiety and frustration.)


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