Stress & absenteeism in the public sector

Stress is on the increase again (see my earlier post)

And with the cuts in public sector spending it could send the already high levels of stress and absenteeism even higher. The public sector already has an average absence rate of around 10 days per employee, 50% higher than the private sector.

This has been the case for the last 20 years at least. Generous sick-pay schemes have been blamed, often allowing 3 months of full pay and then 3 months of half-pay, and managers and HR departments seemingly reluctant to take action. In the Civil Service there was a tradition of taking your “Whitley Days” as employees saw their sick pay as just another way of taking holidays.

Times might have changed of course since then but the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development’s (CIPD) latest survey showed that public sector employees took off an average of 9.6 days compared with 6.6 days in the private sector.

Public sector employees cover a wide range of jobs including those inherently risky such as the police and the fire and rescue service, as well as teachers, social workers, and NHS staff working in A&E or other front-line roles and their absence statistics include victims of assault by the public. Nevertheless it costs on average £899 a year for each public sector worker compared with £600 for someone in the private sector.

Overall 40% of organisations surveyed noted an increase in mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, which they attributed to the effects of the recession, double the number reporting it the previous year.

The public sector reports higher levels of work-related stress, partly for the reasons described above and the need for resilience when dealing with clients with emotional problems, but mainly because of the re-structuring and organisational changes forced on these services by the government cut-backs.

80% of public sector non-manual workers rated stress as one of the leading causes of absenteeism compared with 50% in manufacturing and 60% in the private sector.

It has been suggested that employers should provide workshops, staff surveys and training of staff to manage stress – all of which is in line with HSE recommendations.

It might therefore be timely that November 3rd is National Stress Awareness Day (NSAD) when advisers from the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) will be providing free stress sessions to organisations.


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