Call for resilience

Stress is the biggest cause of long-term absence - intermediaries are increasingly being incentivised to engage resilience professionals to tackle it head on. Edmund Tirbutt reports

Last November’s announcement that new Lloyds Banking Group chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio was being signed off work to recover from extreme fatigue left businesses in no doubt of the potential costs of stress-related problems. The news resulted in nearly £1bn being wiped of Lloyds’ market value in a single day. The fact that he has been able to return to his post shows the true value of coherent rehabilitation structures for individuals, the companies they serve and their shareholders.

Stress problems are far from confined to company heads. According to the 2011 CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management Survey, they are already the single greatest cause of long term absence and the problem shows little sign of receding. Stress-related absence increased over the last year for nearly two-fifths of all employers – and for half of public sector employers.

Paul Roberts, healthcare consultant at IHC, says: “High profile cases highlight poor practice and bring the subject to the front of clients’ minds so they discuss with us what is better practice. Such discussions have increased noticeably in the last two years and some group risk providers have moved from merely having discussions about prevention to the actual activity of early prevention. It’s not uncommon for insurers to want to be notified after a week in stress cases, or it can even be after a day.”

New ground has also been broken in understanding the causes of stress. This February, for example, a report published by the King’s Fund and Centre for Mental Health showed that people with long-term physical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, are two to three times more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population. Experts are also attaching increasing importance to issues that arise outside the workplace – which are already one of the top three causes of work-related stress. (See Box).

Pamela Gellatly, chief executive of Healthcare RM, says: “Our experience is that the connecting factor with a lot of so-called work-related stress is life in general. For example, young people saying things via social media which they wouldn’t say face to face could cause them distress and, if it continues, this can lead to more serious problems. Social media can result in people having less to say to their friends when they meet up and can destroy perceptions of the value of friendship by placing the emphasis on the quantity rather than the quality of friends.”

Group risk intermediaries should make it a priority to keep abreast of such developments say experts and should encourage employers to intervene early when employees show signs of stress, as this will greatly increase the chances of a speedy and cost-effective recovery. They also need to be aware of suitable external services they can recommend. These include occupational health services prepared to deal with one-off cases from employers without existing relationships.


HealthSmart, a new product launched by Enrich this February, aims to facilitate the management of stress problems by integrating an occupational health service with employee benefits.

Cost depends on factors such as company size and usage but, because HealthSmart is recognised by major income protection providers as being a way of reducing absence and potential claims, all will give at least a 5 per cent discount on income protection premiums. In many cases this will cover the costs of the service.

Cheryl Brennan, director and head of strategy and change management at Enrich, says: “HealthSmart is there to tackle all conditions but now that stress is the largest cause of workplace absence there is obviously a significant focus on it.

“Because we are providing the occupational health service, any absence goes through us and we know the range of benefits available to the employer through its products. So we will make sure it uses the right products and services.

“If, for example, someone needed CBT we would look at a range of services and products and select the provider likely to give the best course of treatment, whether it’s via an EAP or private medical insurance or income protection scheme.”

THE CAUSES OF WORK RELATED STRESS Employers were asked their top three causes of work-related stress

Box caption
Cause All Respondents
(% when in top three)

Workloads/volumes of work 48%
Management style 40%
Non-work factors – relationships/family 37%
Relationships at work 31%
Considerable organisational change/
restructuring 31%
Poorly managed organisational change/
restructuring 18%
Pressure to meet targets 17%
Job insecurity 17%
Source: CIPD/Simplyhealth 2011 Absence Management Survey