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Stress overtakes cancer as main cause of sickness absence

Stress is now the biggest cause of long-term sickness absence from work instead of acute illnesses such as cancer, a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth has found.

Two-fifths of employers reported the number of sick days taken due to stress as having risen in the past year as the recession has tightened its grip on the country.

As the economic climate takes its toll on workers who are given more responsibilities with fewer resources the pressure is beginning to show.

Staff are worried about money, being made redundant and the problems associated with balancing work and home life.

Good work needs to be acknowledged to help employees maintain their wellbeing and work systems should be in place to make sure it is rewarding.

Not feeling as if work has been carried out to the required standard or not achieving appropriate aims can be a cause of work related stress.

Diagnosing, treating and rehabilitating those effected is important though measures should be taken to ensure there is not a climate where a similar situation is likely to arise.

There is a disparity between the public and private sectors, however, with half of public companies reporting rises compared to only a third in manufacturing industries.

State employees are working in a particularly difficult climate as staff are cut, pay frozen and uncertainty looms over pensions.

Jill Miller, CIPD adviser, said: "Stress is a particular challenge in the public sector where the sheer amount of major change and restructuring would appear to be the root cause.”

A link between job uncertainty and stress related absence was proved as the survey showed firms planning to make redundancy cuts are more likely to have staff who report mental health problems.

There is some evidence to suggest there is a certain amount of presenteeism however meaning that staff come into work despite being ill due to fear they may negatively favoured in future job cuts if they take time off.

Ms Miller said: "Stress is for the first time the number one cause of long-term sickness absence, highlighting the heightened pressure many people feel under in the workplace as a result of the prolonged economic downturn."