Tackling absenteeism and stress

Dealing with absenteeism as well as office stress levels seems to be a bugbear for small businesses, judging by research.

According to a survey of 450 businesses by the Engineering Employers Federation and Westfield Health, more than a quarter (30 per cent) of small and medium sized enterprises leave absence management to line managers not trained in absence handling as an additional task alongside their main job – enabling staff to ‘pull sickies’ whenever and as frequently as they want.

The research rather implies that training in ‘absence handling’ should be a key priority alongside cash flow and sales, when in reality the scale of the ‘sickies’ problem is surely more often a measure of the level of communication and respect between line managers and their staff.

In separate research, a study by charity Mind reveals that one in five people believe that if they mentioned their stress levels to their managers they would be put first in the firing line.

Chief executive of Mind Paul Farmer says, ‘The negativity that persists around stress and mental health problems is unacceptable in a modern workforce. Pressure and stress may be part of our working lives, but failing to recognise that everyone has a limit is a mistake that costs businesses billions of pounds a year.’

It sounds simple, but both increased absenteeism and high stress levels illustrate the need for managers to spare some time to talk to their employees and listen to their concerns. Dan Watkins, director of find-a-solicitor service Contact Law says, ‘It’s more important than ever for small business owners to ensure there are clear lines of communications with their staff.

‘A demotivated workforce is likely to have an impact on productivity so taking the time to listen to staff and make sure that they are happy, while at the same time listening to their concerns and taking on board what they say, will pay dividends in the long run. If there are difficult decisions to be made then it is important to inform staff as sensitively and thoughtfully as possible.’

Stress a major contributor to long-term absence

Stress-related ill health is the most common cause of long-term absence for almost one in six employers, research finds.

It is the second highest cause of absence behind home and family issues (20 per cent), and is ahead of acute medical conditions such as heart attacks or cancer, according to a study of 500 businesses by Group Risk Development (GRiD), the trade body for the group risk industry.

The problem of stress seems to be worse in the public sector, with 27 per cent of public sector employers citing this as their main cause of absence compared with 13 per cent in the private sector.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD says, ‘Stress is often overlooked as a cause of long-term absence from work, compared to acute medical conditions such as heart attack or cancer. These figures prove just how big a problem absence through stress is for employers, and provide a timely reminder for businesses to take action over what is often a preventable condition.

‘In times of increased economic pressure it is important for employers to consider firstly the wellbeing of their employees and what wider implications are suggested by high levels of stress or other mental illness, and secondly what provisions they have in place to ensure both the employee and the employer are adequately protected in case of long-term absence.’

See also: How to deal with staff absenteeism – What measures can you take to minimise the amount of days employees are absent?

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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