Employers ‘Must Not Avoid Issue Of Workplace Stress’

Expert Urges Firms To Consider Problem Following New CIPD Research


An employment law expert at Irwin Mitchell has called on employers to do more to help workers through restructuring brought about by the current economic climate, after new research linked fears over redundancy and changes in the workplace to stress and subsequent absence from work.

According to figures from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and Simplyhealth, stress has become the primary cause of long-term sickness for the first time, with restructuring and organisational transformation seen as one of the fundamental causes of the problem.

The study has suggested that the research demonstrates concerns over job security and pensions in the current economic climate.

Glenn Hayes, a Partner and employment expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, has warned that stress in the workplace in recent terms may have been exacerbated by a ‘vicious circle’ caused by worry over positions.

He explained: “What often tends to happen is that people become stressed due to redundancy fears but, as many firms use sickness absence as part of their selection criteria, they then choose to stay at work in order not to be penalised for taking time off.

“However, this often only leads to a further build-up of stress, which may then mean the sufferer needs a longer recovery period than they would have had if the issue was addressed at the earliest opportunity.”

Commenting on the research, he said: “Stress in its most serious form can also amount to a disability under the Equality Act (with the duty to make reasonable adjustments triggered) and it is not a major surprise that we’ve seen it overtake other problems such as musculoskeletal issues as the primary reason for sickness absence.

“As a result of redundancy and restructuring exercises, many people have seen their individual workloads increase and have struggled to deal with the subsequent strain that this has placed on them.”

Considering how employers can respond to the issue, Glenn added: “Early intervention is undoubtedly fundamental to tackling these problems, as addressing issues at the first opportunity can often make a huge difference in preventing any serious, long-term problem.

“However, we would always urge businesses to recognise the balancing act they need to play. Offering counselling, keeping staff up-to-date on changes within the firm and return-to-work interviews can be very useful, but if not handled sensitively could create further concern and anxiety and add more pressure onto the shoulders of already vulnerable members of staff.

“Employers need to tread carefully on this issue, but it is vital that concerns over this fine line do not mean they avoid this very serious problem altogether.”