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Tackle work stress to stop rising presenteeism

5th Nov 2019
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This International Stress Awareness Week - from 4th to 8th November 2019 - organised by the International Stress Management Association, we are encouraging employers to address stress in the workplace to tackle rising presenteeism – employees going into work sick.

New research from Canada Life Group Insurance found that 89% of workers had not taken a day off when they weren’t feeling well – this is the equivalent of 29 million UK employees going into work sick. Of those who admitted to working while unwell, three in five (58%) said it was because they did not believe they were ill enough to warrant a day off, while a quarter (27%) said it was because they had too much work on.

Almost a quarter (24%) also said they would feel more comfortable taking time off for illness if there was less pressure from the boss to be ‘always on’ and working.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) increased presenteeism is associated with increases in reported common mental health conditions, as well as stress-related absence. CIPD says that stress is the second top cause of long-term absence.

If people are going into work sick because they feel stressed out with high workloads or fear of losing their jobs, employers need to know this, so they can address these concerns. Presenteeism and absenteeism can seem like opposites, but they both arise from poor absence management practices and employers not understanding the causes behind them.

It’s not about making people feel uncomfortable, it’s about having the right technology in place to record absences, spot trends and ensure back to work interviews are carried out effectively to give people a chance to speak about any issues they may be having.

 Uncovering the root causes of absence and working with people to address any concerns is key to tackling rising presenteeism and absenteeism. Using absence management software alongside best practice HR is the only effective way to do this.

Here are my tips for managing stress in the workplace:

  • Encourage conservations about mental health and promote an open culture where people feel they can talk to their line manager about any concerns.
  • Consider introducing flexible working practices and allowing people to work at home now and again. For instance, some companies let employees do a nine day fortnight which means they can get every second Friday off.
  • Train managers to recognise stress, anxiety and depression and how to manage staff with mental health issues.
  • Encourage people to take regular breaks and not eat lunch at their desks.  Time away from their desk and perhaps going for a walk outside can help people feel more refreshed and less stressed, plus it’s good for their posture.
  • Don’t rely on out-of-date paper forms and spreadsheets to monitor absence trends. Invest in an absence management system so absence can be tracked, along with holiday leave or any other leave (volunteer/study days etc.). This can also make managing flexible working easier.
  • Always conduct back to work interviews when people are off sick, so that employees can talk about any issues that might be causing them stress. It’s also an opportunity to spot areas of concern.

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