New research has highlighted the importance of supporting employees in managing stress.

Group Risk Development (GRiD) polled HR professionals at 500 UK business to learn more about the reasons for short-term absence. It found that stress and “stress-inducing situations” such home and family issues were the key cause of absences from work of up to 26 weeks.

Stress-related mental ill health alone was cited as the reason for 12% of short-term absences from work.

At 20% home/ family issues were found to be the biggest causes, with child care a close second at 17%.

Acute medical conditions such as heart attacks and cancer accounted for 15% of cases, as did musculoskeletal injuries.

Stress contributes to higher-than-average absence

Stress was also cited as a key driver of absenteeism among companies which believe they suffer higher-than-average absence rates.

Some 27% in this group believe work-related stress contributed to their above-average scores, with stress-inducing situations also seen as a contributory factor. They also cited other issues such as dealing with staff shortages (29%), poor work-life balance (20%) and low staff morale (19%).

“The figures show that stress is not something that individuals deal with in isolation, it is a key reason for absence and has a major impact on employers,” commented Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD.

In contrast, those companies which believed they enjoyed lower-than-average absenteeism, pointed to the support they offer for stress.

Pro-active absence management

The survey also found that employers saw that health and wellbeing initiatives could help reduce absenteeism, along with group risk insurance such as income protection.

Over a fifth (22%) said that not having health and wellbeing services was the reason why they had worse absence rates than others in their industry. The failure to provide group income protection was cited by 14% for their relatively poor attendance figures.

“We’re pleased to see that employers recognise that not having income protection in place also contributes to absence,” said Moxham.

She added: “Group income protection does so much more than simply provide financial support when people are unable to work. Providers recognise that stress is a big issue, and specifically offer a lot of support for stress within their products, such as fast-track access to counselling, access to mental health specialists, support tailored for carers, and much more.”

Stress symptoms

Whilst stress is a mental health issue, it manifests physical symptoms. These can include:

  • Loss or gain in appetite
  • Headaches
  • Muscular pain or tension
  • Light-headedness
  • Tiredness

Stress also of course carries a mental toll. It can cause difficulty with sleeping, make it hard to concentrate, take decisions and foster worry and anxiety.

Those symptoms can in turn affect behaviour. If you are stressed you may be more irritable and may be tempted to drink more alcohol than usual. Smokers may find they’re lighting up increasingly frequently.

Stress can also lead people to avoid particular situations or people. This could clearly be an obstacle to them performing effectively at work.

Stress management and treatment

There are a number of techniques that we can all employ to help manage stress.

These include mindfulness strategies, breathing exercises, time-management training and looking after yourself by eating well and taking frequent exercise.

Wellbeing programmes which feature in many company medical insurance and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) offer expert advice and support.

These can embrace a wide range of health and lifestyle issues, such as relationship and financial concerns, which might be triggers for stress.


There are a number of treatment options open to GPs. These include encouraging patients to pursue “self-help” techniques such as those above or referring them for cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling or other psychological therapies. Stress management courses may be another option.


  • If you’d like to learn more about how group income protection or other employee benefits could help you reduce stress-induced absence, please call our group risk experts on 01254 504910.







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