stressed employeeMental health conditions are the single most widespread cause of long-term absence in the workplace, a survey of 850,000 UK employees has revealed.

Nearly half of the 153 organisations questioned in the CBI/Pfizer Absence & Workplace Health Survey cited non-work related stress, anxiety and depression as a cause of long-term absence for all workers.

Meanwhile, mental illness related to work was the 9th most common cause of long-term absence and 11th most common short-term cause. The full results of the survey will be published later this month.

Workplace safety goes hand-in-hand with health
Commenting on the results, Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment and Skills, said: "It's pleasing to see that businesses are increasingly aware progress on workplace safety has to go hand-in-hand with similar progress on health.

"These findings show mental health issues are a major cause of absence, so it’s no surprise that 9 out of 10 businesses are taking positive action to manage mental illness. We need to make sure the health service through the fit note and new occupational health supports firms in helping staff back into work."

Stress and anxiety management
Other findings from the survey include:

• Nine out of 10 (92%) organisations operate stress and anxiety management policies
• In two-thirds of larger businesses (68%), these are formal policies, compared with just under a third (30%) taking an informal approach
• Smaller firms are more likely to take an informal approach to managing mental health (50%) than a formal one (33%)
• Across the board, the most widely-used practices to help support employees are flexible working (82%), counselling (79%) and occupational health support (78%)
• Half of employers (50%) conduct regular risk assessments for stress or other workplace causes of mental health problems.

Debilitating impact of mental health conditions
Pfizer UK’s managing director, Jonathan Emms, concluded: "Employees who are off work for lengthy periods are also those most likely to drop out of the workforce entirely, and that’s often devastating for themselves, their families and society at large.

"These findings show the debilitating impact of mental health conditions on individuals and the workforce, and the scope for improved productivity through the better management of long-term absences."