Stress and sickness at work

Stress and sickness at work

Stress and sickness at work! Absences from work happen. There will always be times when staff are unable to attend Stress and sickness at workwork due to illness. You will never be able to stop absences from happening but it is possible to help minimise the negative effects that can lead to, cause and sustain staff absences that can stop an employee from returning to work at all.

According to research by AXA PPP healthcare, 23% of employees say they won’t tell their line manager the real reason for their absence when calling in sick because they’re afraid of being judged, with a further 15% saying they’re afraid they won’t be believed.

The way you deal with and respond to staff sickness as a manager can make a difference to how employees feel about work. As these statistics from the Office of National Statistics show, the number of absences is decreasing steadily over time – from 178 million days lost in 1993 to 131 million days lost in 2013 which could signal that the approaches to staff absences are improving.

When there is a negative approach to absences in the workplace, this can often lead to extended future absences. As a manager, it is wise to be supportive and considerate of an employee’s absence while ensuring you have the information you need to keep things running. For example, find out the reason for the absence and how long they’re likely to be off and finally find out what work will need to be picked up while they are absent. Listening and demonstrating understanding is key here.

Numerous short-term absences can be disruptive to the day-to-day running of the workplace. Statistics collected by the Confederation of British Industry show that employees take on average 4-6 sick days a year. Logging absences will help you as a manager to spot problems and put the proper support in place and there a number of software packages available to help you do this. Absences like this can indicate serious issues with an individual or wider problems within your business. If you recognise a pattern it is important to raise this with the staff member.  A conversation is often enough to alert the staff member to any cause for concern you have about their behaviour.

Long-term sickness can affect your business in a different way to short-term absences. It can be a difficult time for the staff member affected, not to mention you as their manager. In this instance it is important that you maintain a connection between the staff member and the organisation. Obviously, it is imperative that their duties are picked up to avoid any detrimental effect to the ongoing productivity of the workplace, while also preparing for the staff members eventual return to work.

In the case of a long-term absence from the workplace ensure the employee has given you a sick note from their doctor explaining their absence and the length of time they’re likely to be off. This should be logged with your payroll department so that the sickness can be monitored and budgets adjusted correctly.

When the staff member is ready to return to work it is important to make reasonable adjustments and provide them with the equipment to make sure they’re still able to do their job to the best of their ability. A phased return may also be an option whereby their return to work is a more gradual process. In this instance, it is best to meet with the employee before their return and plan on how best to approach their return to ensure both parties are happy with the arrangements.

Overall, there are simple ways to help prevent absences in the workplace. The most basic principle is to create a culture of openness and engagement. Lead by example, and ensure you establish clear goals and expectations for your team, so you are all working towards the same purpose. Making your staff feel valued and involved in your business will provide them with satisfaction and security in their jobs, and hopefully will persuade them away from taking numerous and unnecessary absences.

Working with a coach really can help your career just zing! Get in touch at the email address below.
Wendy Smith, Career, life and Business Coach

Wendy Smith is a career consultant, life coach and business coach with depth of experience in organisational development, management, coaching and personal development. That experience means she is equally at home helping clients find a new career direction, starting-up new businesses or dealing with life’s more challenging personal issues. You can contact her at

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Real people and personal problems at work

When you lead and manage you are dealing with people; real people with hopes, dreams and lives outside of work.

Years ago, managers, somewhat naively expected you to drop any consideration of the personal when you walked in through the office door.

No one ever did of course, they just suppressed their feelings about what was going on outside work.  Or they tried to!  Sometimes, with uncomfortable effects!  Many of us can tales of bosses who periodically became monsters and then you found out about the rows he was having with his wife.  In those days bosses were usually male.   In that world, all kinds of things went unsaid and unacknowledged.

These days, in most organizations, it is usually accepted that there will be times when the personal will impact on the professional.

In reality, most of us do know how to keep the two in balance.  But as a leader or a manager you need to recognise that personal life does impact on work.

For example, exhausted new parents suffering from lack of sleep due to a crying infant aren’t able to be as creative as they’d like. Workers who are dealing with problems at home often find their minds wandering, and don’t do their best work. Employees who are in pain — either physical or emotional — don’t operate at peak levels.

It is up to us to do our best to keep our employees functioning at their best at work and helping them to contribute when outside circumstances press upon them.   If they are valuable to the organization it is up to us to help them through some of the personal issues that interfere with their ability to do their best work.

Here are some tips;

1. Listen
Often it’s enough just to listen to the employee with a sympathetic ear – it really does help.  It isn’t up to us to solve their personal problems but we can show we care. .

2. Refer  

Many organizations these days offer a counselling service – this is the time to encourage an employee to take up what is on offer. Reassure them about privacy – this should be a requirement for any reputable counselling provider.  If nothing is available inside, then could you help them find a service outside of the organisation that they can access for themselves?  If the problem is medical then persuade them to see their physician

3. Accommodate short-term needs and be flexible.
This is the time to be flexible.  But if you are making special arrangements think through how this will impact on others and agree with the employee how long the arrangements will be in place. Agree how you will explain them to colleagues.   Give short-term time off if it’s needed (use vacation or sick time if it’s available), consider a more flexible working week (working four long days for example) and home working,

5. Temporarily assign an employee to different work that is better suited for the employee’s current state of mind.
This sounds dramatic but it may be the answer.  For example, someone who is under a lot of pressure may not be best placed right now to manage a very intense project.  Or for an employee who travels a lot for business, you may temporarily assign the employee to a job that requires little or no travel.

6. Make it clear what are short-term arrangements.
It’s important to make it clear to the employee what are short-term and temporary special arrangements and not a substantial change to the job.  It is best to put this in writing.  Don’t make it a threat — just make clear that that you’re willing to make these changes for a while to help.  Afterwards you will expect them to go back to delivering their previous level of performance.

7. Keep in touch with the employee during the crisis.
Monitor the situation to ensure that the employee is taking steps to resolve the situation. Provide encouragement and positive reinforcement along the way.

8. When the crisis has passed make sure the focus returns to work. 

Encourage and congratulate the employee on making it through a difficult time. But provide feedback if you think there is more to do to meet the needs of the work.  Provide assistance to help the employee get back the focus they may have lost. 

We are all individuals with our own personal strengths.   Management is about achieving business results with people and that means you have to work with people in the round.  This includes accepting that the personal will sometimes have to take priority over the professional.
Wendy Mason works as a personal and business coach, consultant and blogger. She has managed or advised on many different kinds of transition and she has worked with all kinds of people going through personal change. If you would like her help, email her at or ring ++44(0)2084610114 or ++44(0)7867681439