The stress and anxiety of surviving the recession over the past 18 months has led to a rise in staff absence rates, and an increased recognition from managers that workplace health and absence is an issue they need to address, according to new research.
A poll of employers and staff by health insurer Aviva found that nearly a quarter felt the difficult economic times had increased stress levels in workers and led to an inevitable rise in long-term absence.
More than six in 10 of the business owners surveyed also felt that long-term absence was now an issue for their business, with one in six recognising that long-term sickness could have a devastating effect on staff morale.
Worryingly, just 6% of employees polled felt their company worked hard to get staff back into the workplace when they had been off sick for two weeks or more.
More positively, there was growing awareness of the benefits of tackling workplace stress head-on.
When asked when and if they would step in to help an employee who they thought might become sick, only 14% of employers felt it that was not their place to pry: 35% said they would take an employee aside to discuss the issue, and 28% said they would advise the employee to see a counsellor or GP for extra support.
Four out of 10 of those who recorded low absence rates claimed this was because of their efforts to manage stress.
Dr Doug Wright, principal clinical consultant from Aviva UK Health, said: “Early identification and treatment of stress-related conditions through group income protection and employee assistance programmes is possible and has extremely positive results.”
In a separate development, standards and certification company BSI has said it is working to develop a set of good practice standards for stress management or, as it is technically called, a Publicly Available Specification.
There is currently no recognised standard or official benchmark for good practice for psychosocial risk assessment and management.
The standards will be targeted at any organisation assessing and managing the risks associated with work-related stress, including occupational health professionals. Standards are being created in conjunction with academics at Nottingham University.