Stress drives jump in long-term sickness absence

Stress drives jump in long-term sickness absence

Long-term sickness absence caused by stress has jumped over the past year as workers increasingly fear for their jobs amid the uncertain outlook, new figures show.

The survey from manufacturers’ body the EEF, (published Monday, 14th May) has revealed that after many years of gradual decline in sickness absence, the number of people starting to pull a “sickie” has plateaued or is rising, with a slight increase in absence among mainly manual workers.

However, the study, based on 429 employers, shows there has been a big jump in long-term absence rates due to mental health problems, including stress, anxiety and depression, across both manual and office workers.

The EEF report warns that “recessionary pressures” and fears over “job security” are likely to be behind the rise in stress-related absence.

The study comes following the high-profile leave of absence taken by Lloyds Banking Group’s chief executive, Antonio Horta-Osorio, last year, who was took two months off work due to a stress-related sleeping disorder. Mental health experts said his case would help make it easier for other employees to come forward with stress problems.

Almost two-fifths of companies saw an increase in long-term sickness absence levels over the past two years, a rise of 5pc from last year, the survey showed.

The majority of companies reported no change or a decline in workers going off sick, but this was a drop of 6pc year-on-year, the EEF said.

Sayeed Khan, EEF chief medical adviser, said: “With our economy still suffering from weak growth we need to pull every possible lever to improve our economic performance. This includes helping employees to return to health and work as soon as possible. There are now signs that the wins to reduce short -term absence are being exhausted and we need a fresh approach from government to address the more deep-rooted problems such as stress and back pain.”

Overall, the survey shows a decline in short-term absence over the last five years, with one third of companies seeing a decrease in 2011. The number of workers recording taking no days off for being ill increased from 46pc in 2010 to 51 last year.

The EEF said employers, where possible, had set stretching targets for cutting absence and were tackling the problem of short-term “sickies” better by providing training for line managers and making use of occupational health services.

However, employers needed more help in tackling long-term absence, Mr Khan said, adding the Government should implement the proposals from its own review of sickness absence – published more than six months ago – with “urgency”.

A DWP spokesman said sickness absence cost the economy £15bn every year. “We are carefully considering the recommendations of the Sickness Absence Review and will be responding later this year,” he said.

This article was originally featured on

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

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