In contrast to the overall rise in sickness absence recorded in the latest employment figures, Swiss Life Network partner Unum’s research reveals a fall in long-term sickness absence due to stress.
The increase in the number of people signed off work on long-term sick absence, reported in June by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) as part of the latest employment statistics, should not be seen as evidence of an overall increase in the proportion of people suffering from stress, according to Unum, one of the UK’s leading providers of financial protection.

The insurer’s own recent research has shown that the long-term trend of stress resulting in long-term sickness absence is decreasing, with the proportion of all long-term sickness absence cases attributed to stress falling by 10% in the past four years. Stress now accounts for 23% of all long-term absences, compared to 33% in 2006.

Michael O’Donnell, Chief Medical Officer at Unum, comments: “The decrease in stress as a cause of long-term sickness absence that we have recorded may be due to the companies concerned gradually tackling stress issues in the workplace, or because some employees would rather have another diagnosis than ‘stress’. This trend is also shown in the Labour Force Survey, which has been consistent with our findings over the last five years.

“We need to be careful not to be premature in drawing conclusions from the ONS figures. It is inevitable that job losses will include those with mental ill health, including stress. Additionally, normal anxiety about job loss is rational and should not be confused with mental ill health.

“It is a sad fact that stigma against mental ill health still exists at work, and many people do not feel able to talk about such problems with their employers. It's important to acknowledge that it is natural to experience stress and there are ways to manage it, including making use of employee assistance programmes, which are increasingly offered through the workplace; careful financial planning and organisation; and communication with line managers or HR if the employee feels comfortable doing so.

“There is much evidence to show that being in work is better for your health. We should therefore be very careful before encouraging people to go off sick with stress and into the very situation they are most frightened of - being out of work.”

Unum wins Group Risk Provider of the Year award

Unum has been awarded the title Group Risk Provider of the Year at the 2010 UK Pensions Awards – the industry’s most prestigious accolade for scheme providers. The awards, run by Professional Pensions, were presented in April 2010 at a gala dinner in London.

Unum’s Customer Solutions Director, Glenn Thompson, accepted the award and said: “We are delighted to have collected this award. We are making significant improvements to our product and service proposition to provide the best financial protection for all workers across the UK, and this award is testament to the hard work that the whole team is putting in. We are particularly delighted to win this award for the third time - being recognised by the industry’s leading professionals is a great achievement."

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