Behind the headlines: Is workplace stress on the rise?
Stress is now the leading cause of long-term sickness in the workplace, according to reports in the media last week.
The Daily Telegraph said that "tougher workloads, having a 'bad' boss and the fear of being made redundant" are reasons for increasing numbers of workers going on long-term sickness leave.
The Guardian added that worries about job losses have caused stress to overtake "other reasons for long-term absence such as repetitive strain injury and medical conditions such as cancer".
Where does the story come from?
The stories are based on findings published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) and private health company Simplyhealth.
These findings were taken from an online survey that was completed by 592 UK employers in June 2011.
The survey consisted of 40 questions about levels of absence, causes, costs and the way that organisations handled absence.
Responses show that stress was the leading cause of long-term absence among workers, with nearly two-fifths of employers having experienced an increase in stress-related absence among their workers in the past year.
Public sector organisations reported an increase of stress-related absence by about 50 per cent, while private sector and manufacturing industries saw levels increase by about a third.
More than a quarter of organisations saw more people coming to work ill in the past year, and almost two-fifths experienced a further increase in mental health problems.
Restructuring and organisational change were identified as leading causes of stress among public sector workers, with greater numbers expressing worries about job security than last year.
The report argues that the findings "make an even stronger case for why employers need to be taking action".
It adds that despite half of public sector employers saying stress-related absence has increased in the last year "just 58 per cent of organisations say they are taking steps to identify and manage stress at work, which indicates that there is a lot more that needs to be done".
Gill Phillips, HR spokesperson for Simplyhealth, added: "Stress can often have a negative effect on the workplace, which can result in loss of productivity and disengaged employees.
"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."
How can NICE help?
NICE has published two pieces of public health guidance aimed at promoting mental health in the workplace.
The NICE guidance on Promoting mental wellbeing at work says that prolonged stress is linked to psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical conditions like heart disease, back pain and headache.
It recommends that organisations should take a strategic and coordinated approach to promoting employees' wellbeing. This includes ensuring that mental wellbeing is promoted in all their policies and practices when managing people.
In particular, the guidance states that "employees should be fully supported throughout organisational change and situations of uncertainty".
The guidance also recommends that organisations should take structured approaches to promoting employee wellbeing and managing risk. This should be done by using employee attitude surveys.
Information about absence rates, staff turnover, investment in training and development should also be used to promote wellbeing and manage risk. And feedback and open communication should additionally be provided.
Line managers should be strengthened in their role in promoting the mental wellbeing of employees through supportive leadership style and management practices. Managers should be able to identify and respond with sensitivity to employees' emotional concerns, and symptoms of mental health problems.
Other recommendations include suggestions for flexible working and support for micro, small and medium-sized businesses.
The NICE guidance on Management of long term sickness and incapacity recommends that employers should manage and implement sickness absence policies and appropriate health and safety practices.
This should include liaising with employees who have been on long-term sickness absence, or recurring long-term sickness absence and helping them return to work.
The guidance includes a detailed pathway for long-term sickness absence that leads from identification of health problem through to assessment and delivery of intervention.
11 October 2011