Long term absence from work due to stress is decreasing says study

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The number of people taking an extended period of time off work due to stress in the workplace has fallen by around 10 percent in the past 4 years according to a research study carried out by Unum.

Back in 2006, stress accounted for approximately 33 percent of long term absences from work whereas it now accounts for only 23 percent claims the insurance company.

However, recent statistics released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the number of people off sick on a long term basis had increased.

This doesn’t mean that more people are suffering from stress said Michael O’Donnell, Chief Medical Officer at Unum, who puts forwards a couple of reasons as to why there has been a decrease in stress related absences.

“The decrease in stress as a cause of long-term sickness absence that we have recorded may be due to the companies concerned gradually tackling stress issues in the workplace, or because some employees would rather have another diagnosis than ‘stress’” said O’Donnel.

“This trend is also shown in the Labour Force Survey, which has been consistent with our findings over the last five years”.

O’Donnel warns us not to misinterpret the ONS figures and acknowledges that some level of stress is natural and there are ways of coping with it.

“We need to be careful not to be premature in drawing conclusions from the ONS figures. It is inevitable that job losses will include those with mental ill health, including stress.

Additionally, normal anxiety about job loss is rational and should not be confused with mental ill health” said O’Donnel.

“It is a sad fact that stigma against mental ill health still exists at work, and many people do not feel able to talk about such problems with their employers.  It’s important to acknowledge that it is natural to experience stress and there are ways to manage it, including making use of employee assistance programmes, which are increasingly offered through the workplace; careful financial planning and organisation; and communication with line managers or HR if the employee feels comfortable to do so.

“There is much evidence to show that being in work is better for your health. We should therefore be very careful before encouraging people to go off sick with stress and into the very situation they are most frightened of – that is, being out of work” concludes O’Donnel.

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