By Daniel Hunter

Mental health conditions have emerged as the single most widespread cause of long-term absence from the workplace, according to initial findings from the CBI/ Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey.

More than half (54%) of employers cited non-work related stress, anxiety and depression as a cause of long-term absence for non-manual workers, and slightly fewer (42%) for manual workers.

It is also the third most common cause of short-term absence, cited by nearly half of employers (46%) of non-manual staff and nearly a third (31%) for manual workers.

Meanwhile, mental illness related to work is the ninth most common cause of long-term absence overall, and the eleventh most common cause of short-term absence.

The full survey will be published later this month.

“Businesses are increasingly aware progress on workplace safety has to go hand-in-hand with similar progress on health," Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment and Skills, said.

“These findings show mental health issues are a major cause of absence, so it’s no surprise that nine out of ten 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.”

The survey gathered responses from HR practitioners and managers in 153 organisations employing 850,000 people across the UK’s public and private sectors. It found that:

· Nine out of ten (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.

“Conditions linked to anxiety, stress and depression are responsible for almost half of cases of long-term absence from the workplace," Jonathan Emms, Pfizer UK Managing Director, said.

“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.”

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