The vulnerability of workers who take time off, or are signed off, work because of sickness has been highlighted by this year’s absence survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
The CIPD’s annual absence management research, in conjunction with insurer and healthcare provider Simplyhealth, found that more than two-fifths of the public sector organisations polled said that they intended to make redundancies over the next six months, with a further 33% suggesting that redundancies were a possibility, compared with one in six in the private sector and a quarter of non-profit organisations.
Crucially, half of the employers polled said that they used employee absence records as part of their criteria for selecting for redundancy.
This figure rose to nearly three-quarters in the manufacturing and production sector.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in that context, more than a quarter of organisations also reported an increase in people struggling into work while ill in the past 12 months, while almost two-fifths had noted an increase in reported mental health problems.
In fact, stress and mental health problems had, for the first time, overtaken musculoskeletal disorders as the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for both manual and non-manual employees.
A link between job security and mental health problems was also revealed by the survey.
Employers planning to make redundancies in the next six months were significantly more likely to report an increase in mental health problems among their staff (51% compared with 32% who are not planning redundancies).
For manual workers, stress was now level with acute medical conditions as a reason for absence and had moved ahead of acute medical conditions for non-manual staff.
With the public sector undergoing significant organisational changes and budget cuts, there had been a particular increase in stress-related absence, with 50% of these respondents reporting an increase.
Job insecurity was also reported as a more common cause of work-related stress in the public sector compared with last year and was higher than the previous year in both the private and non-profit sectors.
When it came to occupational health, again, the survey highlighted the value placed on practitioners by employers in helping tackle long-term absence.
The most common methods used to manage short-term absence were return-to-work interviews, trigger mechanisms to review attendance, giving sickness absence information to line managers and disciplinaries for unacceptable absences.
Conversely, the most common methods used to manage long-term absence were return-to-work interviews, occupational health involvement and giving sickness absence information to line managers, followed by trigger mechanisms to review attendance and risk assessments to aid return to work.
Line managers took primary responsibility for managing short-term absence in two-thirds of organisations overall, and more than three-quarters in the public sector.
For long-term absence, this was 55% of organisations overall, rising to 73% of the public sector.
Private sector employers were much more likely to restrict sick pay than those in the public sector, but also more likely to offer private medical insurance and attendance bonuses or incentives.
CIPD adviser Dr Jill Miller said: “Line managers need to focus on regaining the trust of their employees and openly communicating throughout the change process to avoid unnecessary stress and potential absences. They also need to be able to spot the early signs of people having difficulty coping at work and to provide appropriate support.”
In separate research, a study of more than 1,000 people by occupational psychologists OPP has concluded that almost 30% of workers believe that they are stressed by their job, with more than one-fifth considering quitting as a result.