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As the economy slumps so do the workers

Work-related stress increases by 40% during a recession.

New research published in the scientific journal, Occupational Medicine, also shows that one in four workers experience work related stress during a slump, that the number of staff taking time off due to job stress increases by about 25% and total time off due to these types of psychological problems increases by more than a third.

The Society of Occupational Medicine say the findings are a stark warning to employees and employers at a time when Britain’s economic prospects suggest a ‘double dip’ recession. They say firms should use occupational health services or risk long term damage to their productivity.

'Occupational health provision is even more important in times of recession as specialists can help with the stress caused by mounting workloads, organisational change and job uncertainty. We can help businesses look at how they manage stress levels and improve the working environment for workers,' said Dr Henry Goodall, President of the Society of Occupational Medicine

The research is based on a large study by researchers at the University of Nottingham and University of Ulster of tens of thousands of civil servants in Northern Ireland. It compared the findings of two surveys. The first was conducted in 2005 prior to the recession and the second in 2009 whilst the economy was severely hit. Scientists looked at areas such as the demands of the job, control over work and the support workers felt they had from managers. They also measured workers perceptions of how stressed they were at work and how much time they had taken off because of work-related stress. The findings show the importance of focusing on looking after workers' mental health and wellbeing during austere
economic times.

This is one of the largest studies of its type and demonstrates clearly that good health begins at work. MHF CEO Peter Baker says: 'This study confirms that employers should invest more in occupational health services that support staff during stressful times. MHF has a track record of helping develop occupational health services that more effectively engage men and is willing and ready to help.'

Depression and anxiety

The Society of Occupational Medicine identify BT as one company that has recognized this as an issue and been proactive in this area. Catherine Kilfedder, BT group health advisor, said: 'BT has a wealth of information and support for its people and families on many aspects of health and wellbeing, including the impact of the recession and stress. When the recession first hit, we partnered with Relate to make additional support available to employees across the UK, in the form of a confidential web chat with counsellors. We continue to promote and develop our resources in these difficult times.'

Depression and anxiety are now the most common reasons for people starting to claim long-term sickness benefits. The Society of Occupational Medicine say that by investing in occupational health services, senior management teams can play a key role in helping people return to work. This will improve the overall performance of the organisation and of individual employees and reduce the costs of sickness absence.

Occupational health doctors and nurses are trained to assess whether someone is fit to do their job. By understanding the nature of the work and the specific tasks that someone does, they can help employers break down some of the barriers that prevent people returning to work. They are able to look at the context in which someone has become unwell and provide a holistic approach – something which is difficult to do in a short consultation at a GP surgery.

Page created on February 21st, 2012

Page updated on February 22nd, 2012



I'm delighted to see BT taking workplace stress and other associated conditions seriously. Its decision to partner with Relate is also very enlightened.

As a counsellor myself and one with a background in industry I am particularly keen for employers to take their responsibilities seriously. Well done BT and other organisations who take this approach.

Martin Crook
Milton Keynes