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Levels of stress-related absence on the increase - public v private sector

27 October 2010 #Employment

A recent annual absence survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has revealed that stress-related absence levels have increased over the past year.  Workers in the public sector came off worse, with the survey finding that they took an average of 9.6 days off sick a year (3 days more than those working in the private sector). 
The results have not come as a surprise to all, with CIPD adviser Dr Jill Miller commenting that "compared with the private sector, more public-sector employees are in challenging, public-facing roles such as social work, policing, teaching and nursing where they often have to deal with people in difficult and emotionally charged situations, putting pressure on their time and resilience."
The survey also revealed that:

  • 56% of workers in the public sector rated organisational change/restructuring as a top-three cause of work-related stress.  This compares to an average across all sectors of 39% (which include manufacturing and production, private sector services and non-profit).
  • The recession and subsequent recovery took their toll on absence across all sectors, with more than one-third of employers saying they had seen an increase in reported mental health problems such as anxiety and depression (compared to an increase of just one-fifth last year).  

With the planned cuts to the Civil Service looming on the horizon as a result of the recent spending review, trade unions have warned that stress levels in the public sector are set to increase.   
On a more positive note, the survey showed that public sector employers are putting practices in place to try to combat the higher levels of stress-related absence which include staff surveys, flexible working options, training in stress management for managers and staff, and stress risk assessments.  Whilst the survey has revealed that higher levels of stress-related absence are more prevalent in the public sector, employers in the private and other sectors should not rest on their laurels. 
Excessive levels of stress at work are liable to lead to problems such as high employee turnover, decreased performance and (as the survey has demonstrated) high levels of absenteeism.  Poorly managed stress can therefore have a major impact on a business, both financially and in terms of employee satisfaction. Simple and relatively inexpensive solutions can be adopted by an emloyer to try to manage stress in the workplace. 

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
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