CIPD calls for enhanced management training to curb stress at work

Nearly two-fifths of UK businesses (37%) have seen a rise in stress-related absence over the last year, with heavy workloads and poor management style to blame, according to a new report from the CIPD and Simplyhealth.

The research, which surveyed 1,078 people professionals, shows that stress is a growing problem in UK workplaces. Respondents say having heavy workloads (62%), which can be attributed to poor management, 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 last year.

Heavy workloads

The research, which surveyed 1,078 people professionals, shows that stress is a growing problem in UK workplaces. Respondents say having heavy workloads (62%), which can be attributed to poor management, 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 last year.

The worrying increase in management style as a key cause of workplace stress highlights the need for businesses to invest properly in management training, as well as wider well-being initiatives.

Health and Well-Being results

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

More than four-fifths (83%) of respondents have observed ‘presenteeism’ (going to work when ill) in their organisation and a quarter (25%) say the problem has got worse since the previous year. 

Nearly two-thirds (63%) have observed ‘leaveism’ (such as using holiday leave to work) in their organisation. More than half (55%) say their organisation hasn’t taken any steps to address the issue.

These disturbing results undermine the fact that the survey records the lowest number of average sick days (5.9 per employee per year) in the 19-year history of the report.

Insufficient manager training

The report reveals that many managers aren’t receiving the training they need to spot and help manage these unhealthy practices among their staff: 

• Only 50% of managers have undergone 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. 

These findings represent a serious failure by senior leaders given that managers play a vital front-line role in supporting staff with their health and wellbeing. 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.

Aside from not receiving adequate training or guidance, many senior leaders haven’t done enough to get managers to buy into the importance of wellbeing. Only half (50%) of respondents say this is true of managers, raising questions about how fairly and consistently they can implement their organisation’s health and well-being policies in their own teams.

Wellness at work

Furthermore, fewer than a third (32%) say that senior leaders encourage a focus on mental wellbeing through their actions and behaviours.

In response to the report’s findings, the CIPD is calling for senior leaders to prioritise wellness at work. It is encouraging greater investment in health and well-being by training managers so they are confident and competent to support staff.

>See also: 39% of employers fail to offer mental health support

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 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. 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.”

Michelle Hobson from Moorepay, the leading payroll and HR services provider, said: “Stress at work is a major issue that has significant healthcare implications for workers and huge cost and productivity challenges for companies. It is within everyone’s interests that employers actively manage stress and help staff address mental health issues at work. While many companies are now taking this seriously, the CIPD and Simplyhealth Report shows that there is much more that needs to be done.

“Falling absenteeism is good news for employers, particularly those like our 10,000+ customers in the SME sector who can feel absence more acutely. But the recurring issues of ‘presenteeism’ and ‘leaveism‘ suggest many employees feel they cannot take time off work even if they are unwell or suffering from stress. This does nothing for the employee or his or her organisation, and harms productivity.

“While we often look to larger companies to lead the way with headline grabbing initiatives such as mental health first-aiders and flexible working practices and benefits, the reality is that many smaller businesses are pioneering more personal and interventionist approaches, with managers talking to their employees and making bespoke changes to meet their precise needs.

“Both approaches have merit, and we need to create a hybrid that creates a package of benefits and services that employees can use to manage their stress and a personal, interventionist approach that helps those who are struggling.”

>See also: Anxiety, stress and depression: job sector ‘mental health hotspots’