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Poor management triggers rise in workplace stress

9 April 2019

Businessman overwhelmed with the amount of work to be doneThe CIPD is calling for more investment in management training to help tackle rising levels of stress at work.

Nearly two-fifths of UK businesses (37%) have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the past year, according to a new report by HR body the CIPD and Simplyhealth.

The survey of more than 1,000 HR professionals has found that 62% say that heavy workloads is the top cause of stress-related absence. The second biggest contributing factor is management style, which has risen from 32% to 43% in the past year.

The annual Health and Well-Being at Work Survey Report has uncovered evidence of more unhealthy trends in the workplace linked to stress:

  • 83% of respondents have observed "presenteeism" (going to work when ill) in their organisation and 25% say the problem has got worse in the past year;
  • 63% have observed "leaveism" (such as using holiday leave to work) and 55% say their organisation hasn't taken any steps to address it;
  • The survey has recorded the lowest number of average sick days (5.9 per employee per year) in the 19-year history of the report.

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The findings also show that many managers aren't receiving the training they need. Only 50% of managers have had training to support their staff to better manage stress. Out of the minority of organisations taking action to tackle leaveism and presenteeism, only 37% of managers have been trained to spot the warning signs of either.

The CIPD says the findings "represent a serious failure by senior leaders given that managers play a vital front-line role in supporting staff with their health and well-being. Managers should be the first port of call if an employee wants to discuss a health condition and are also best placed to spot the early warning signs if someone is struggling to cope."

The CIPD is calling for senior leaders to prioritise wellness at work. "Managers should be helping to alleviate stress among their staff, not contributing to it," said Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD. "But too many managers are being set up to fail because they haven't received adequate training, despite them often being the first person employees will turn to when they have a problem.

"Rates of presenteeism and leaveism, which are both linked to stress, remain stubbornly high. Employers have a responsibility to tackle these bad habits. They must also realise that staff are not going to perform at their best if they are working when ill or using up holiday to work rather than recharge.

"It's vital that businesses recognise the importance of well-being initiatives and training for line managers. Senior leaders should work with their HR experts to ensure there is sufficient training and an overall culture of well-being in their workplaces."

Pam Whelan, director of corporate at Simplyhealth, said: "People are an organisation's greatest asset and so it is crucial that senior leaders recognise the importance of investing in their employees … but this year's report shows there is more work to be done to better support them with training and guidance."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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