Work & Wellbeing

Tackle work-related stress to lower absence levels

4 min read

23 April 2018

Former special projects journalist

Stress is one of the main contributors to employee absence, but there are things businesses can do to tackle this issue.

Stress and stress-inducing situations have been singled out as one of the main cause of short-term absences (up to 26 weeks).

This is according to research from Group Risk Development (GRiD), which asked 500 HR professionals the key reasons for short-term absences within their organisations.

While acute medical conditions and musculoskeletal conditions each accounted for 15% of absences, 20% were attributed to home and family issues, and stress-related mental ill health was responsible for 12% of absences.

Work-related stress

Companies that felt their absence was higher than average for their industries cited stress as a contributing factor, with staff shortages, poor work/life balance and low morale all proffered as reasons.

In addition, employers recognised the extent to which health and wellbeing programmes can help support the workforce, with 22% claiming that not having these initiatives in place was the reason for poor attendance records.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD commented: “The figures show that stress is not something that individuals deal with in isolation, it is a key reason for absence and has a major impact on employers…

“When stress is an issue for employees, it’s an issue for employers too. Poor absence means poor productivity.”

The companies that believed their absence figures were lower than their industry average chalked it up to good staff morale (57%), good work/life balance (50%), and flexible working options (34%).

The stigma of mental health

Interestingly, 10% of absences were attributed as suspected non-genuine absences.

While there’s no way of knowing whether employees are being strictly truthful about the reasons for not turning up to work, it is worth bearing in mind the stigma that is often still attached to mental health, that may prevent an employee from disclosing the nature of their absence from their company.

In fact, according to a recent study by CV Library, 60.2% of employees feel embarrassed about disclosing information on the state of their mental health with their employer, and 60.8% said they did not feel they could talk about it with their boss.

Shockingly, some employees raised concerns that their employers would judge them for mental health issues – and 36.7% feared they would be fired for talking about it with their boss.

Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library, said: “Mental health in the workplace continues to be a hot topic, and this is because it is clearly not being dealt with effectively. We are a nation that is under more pressure than ever before and it’s therefore unsurprising that people will be feeling the effects whilst at work.

“Businesses should prioritise creating a culture where openness and honesty are encouraged. In turn, this will ensure that workers feel comfortable confiding in their boss, making coming to work that little bit less stressful.”

It is apparent that it is in an employer’s interest to tackle mental ill-health where possible. Aiming to create a stress-free work environment, or implementing health and wellbeing initiatives, may be a cost-effective solution for many in the long run.