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Stress the most common reason for long-term absence

Stress among UK workers accounts for more lost days than any other medical complaint. It is particularly problematic in non-manual jobs and in the public sector, according to new research.

Rethinking Stress, a paper released by Right Management Workplace Wellness and Manpower Group, shows that 64% of employers of non-manual workers quote stress as being in their top five reasons for long-term absence. The second highest cause is acute medical conditions at 60%.

For manual roles the figure for stress is 51% and the top reason for absence is musculoskeletal injuries, at 63%. 

Right Management Workplace Wellness clinical director Kevin Friery told HR magazine he doesn't see managers taking stress as seriously as other mental health issues.

"Some people think stress is just a part of life. To some extent this is true but if ignored and not treated properly it can lead to problems," he said.

"Up to 84% of factors that cause these problems come from outside of work, but that doesn't prevent managers being able to help. While they don't need to get involved in messy family situations, they should have infrastructures in place to help their employees."

The public sector lost more work days to stress absence than the private sector, according to the research. Of public service providers, 58% said stress was their most common cause of absence compared to 40% in the private sector. Friars puts this down to a culture in the public sector whereby workers think it is more acceptable to be absent with stress. 

He doesn't see this as a healthy response though, saying that employees can get more "fed up" if they stay away from work.

"Employees will have to ask themselves a series of questions before they go back to work," he said. "In thinking about these issues surrounding their health this may bring up negative feelings. This process can turn a problem that may have started as relatively minor into a more serious issue."