CIPD links rising stress to poor management


An increase in the number of HR professionals who cite “management style” as the main cause of stress at work highlights the need to improve training for line managers, says a report and survey from the CIPD and health insurance group Simplyheath.

The 19th annual Health and Wellbeing at Worksurvey is based on responses from 1,078 HR professionals, 37% of whom reported an increase in stress-related absence at their organisation over the past year.

When asked about the contributory factors at work, 43% cited poor management, up from 32% the year before, making it the second most frequently mentioned factor.

Workloads or volume of work was the most frequently cited cause, by 62% of respondents.

The survey found that 71% of organisations had taken steps to identify and reduce workplace stress, but only 50% of these had undertaken training for line managers on managing stress.

This compared to 48% undertaking risk assessments or stress audits, 40% providing personal resilience training for staff and 15% deploying the HSE’s Stress Management Standards.

At 30% of organisations, the level of stress-related absence had stayed the same, while only 8% reported a decrease.

According to the 2019 report, stress accounted for 7% of short-term absence lasting for four weeks or less, and mental ill health for 4%.

At 23%, mental ill health was the largest cause of long-term absence over four weeks, with stress at 20%.

The survey recorded the lowest number of average sick days, 5.9 per employee per year, in the 19-year history of the report.

But this was seen as evidence of decidedly unhealthy trends in the workplace: “presenteeism” when staff go to work when ill and “leaveism” when they use holiday leave to work.

Presenteeism was observed by 83% of respondents, with 25% saying that the problem had got worse over the past 12 months.

Only 32% of organisations were taking steps to discourage presenteeism, and of these only 37% were providing training or guidance for line managers.

The most common method (79%) was managers sending people home who were unwell.

Meanwhile, leaveism had been observed by 63% of respondents, with only 28% of these taking steps to discourage the practice.

Of these, 37% had provided training or guidance for line managers, and only 14% said it was viewed as a priority by the board.

Out of the organisations taking action to tackle leaveism and presenteeism, only 37% had trained to spot the warning signs of either.

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “Managers should be helping to alleviate stress among their staff, not contributing to it.

“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 wellbeing 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 wellbeing 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.

“Line managers play a front line role and are often best placed to support with health and well-being, but this year’s report shows there is more work to be done to better support them with training and guidance.

“In addition, there are further steps organisations can take to help reduce stress-related absence and encourage a preventative approach. Fostering a culture where employees feel they can seek support when they need it is key, and initiatives such as offering an employee assistance programme and flexible working arrangements can help improve an employee’s work/life balance.”