UK employers are being urged to act to cut the personal and financial cost of workplace stress and mental health issues.
The call comes following research published this month which found a rise in the number of organisations reporting increases in sickness absence due to stress and illnesses such as anxiety and depression
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Absence Management 2016 survey reported that stress is the most common cause of long-term absence and the second most common cause of short-term sickness leave.
Commenting on the research, which involved surveying over 1,000 human resources professionals, Richard Holden, commercial director of private medical insurance specialist Chase Templeton commented:
“Many UK private and public sector organisations are failing the stress test by not taking relatively simple and low cost steps to address its causes, symptoms and treatment. They need to act by looking critically at their corporate culture, at workloads and the hours they expect staff to work. But they should also provide support mechanisms so that employees can minimise the risk and impact of stress on their work and home lives.
“It’s a growing and therefore increasingly expensive problem which the private sector in particular is not doing enough to address. The public sector is much more proactive.”
He pointed out that the CIPD, found nearly a third of organisations surveyed reported an increase in stress related absence. Over 40% also reported a rise in mental health problems which themselves were “strongly related to stress related absences.”.
The CIPD also noted that: “We believe an effective absence management approach is one which is coupled with a focus on health promotion and employee wellbeing. Proactively supporting well-being can prevent people from going off sick, or help support employees with an issue before it becomes a real problem.”
It found that 50 percent of all organisations surveyed made use of employee assistance programmes – also known as Employee Benefits programmes – to identify and reduce workplace stress. However the figures dropped to less than half for private sector employers. Private medical insurance (PMI) was found to be the most popular form of insurance or protection employed.
“It’s good to see that many employers see the positive impact employee benefits schemes can have on their organisations’ performances. Equally it is depressing to see many not taking advantage of schemes which can be designed, at relatively low cost, to match their needs,” said Mr. Holden.
“A well-structured employee benefits scheme can not only be a useful absence management tool which enhances productivity, but can aid staff recruitment and retention. They are not just practical but their use sends out a message that this employer cares about the wider wellbeing of its staff.”
Mr Holden, whose company was recently named as the UK’s Best Group International PMI Intermediary, adds that such schemes can embrace a range of initiatives and offer benefits which are universal or targeted at certain staff groups.
They might include company medical insurance which typically includes access to wellbeing programmes that provide lifestyle advice and access to around-the-clock to expert medical advice.
Treatments such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy can also be offered with more sophisticated programmes providing occupational health services.
“These are group schemes which offer the cost benefits you might expect from bulk buying,” comments Holden. “The costs per head are significantly lower than they would be for a private individual and the benefits, the rewards, are reaped not only by those insured but their employer.”