Stress-related absence among HR increased by 70 per cent in 2020, research suggests

Experts say people professionals must remember to look after their own wellbeing while they’re working ‘more than ever’  

There was a 70 per cent rise in the number of stress-related absences among HR professionals in 2020 compared to the previous year, research has found.

Absence data from 1,500 employers, collected and analysed by e-days, revealed that HR and staffing professionals was now the sector with the third highest rate of stress-related sick leave, with an average of 0.39 days per employee. 

This was topped only by the healthcare sector, which had an average of 0.64 stress-related sick days per employee – an increase of 146 per cent on the previous year – and government employees, who had and average of 0.57 days per employee – an increase of 39 per cent.

Commenting on the findings, Rachel Suff, employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said HR professionals had been at the centre of their organisations’ response to the pandemic. “Many months on, as the crisis continues, people professionals need to dig deep to help shore up organisational resilience and continue to support employee wellbeing,” Suff said.

“Given these high demands, people professionals must look after their personal wellbeing and resilience so that they can recognise any signs that day-to-day pressures – whether at home or at work, or both – are tipping into unmanageable stress.” She added that the CIPD’s wellbeing hub provided resources to support members with their own health and wellbeing.

Across all sectors, e-days’ research noted a 64 per cent rise in the number of stress-related sick days in 2020 compared to the previous year.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

Despite this increase, analysis found that the amount of leave and holiday cancelled almost doubled in 2020 compared to the previous year, and also raised concerns about presenteeism – estimating that two-thirds of those working from home at some point worked while sick last year.

These findings were in line with earlier analysis of Office for National Statistics figures, which showed that, while the number of fit notes issued by GPs dropped last year, the proportion issued for mental health reasons increased.

Steve Arnold, CEO of e-days, said while the rapid rise in stress-related absence was alarming, it was not surprising. But, he said: “With HR leaders also struggling, we must recognise there is a perfect storm going on.

“What we do have within our control is looking after people when they do need to book absence but are working remotely. We have to build a company culture that shouts ‘absence matters’ and do away with the fear of appearing lazy or unable to cope.

“The truth is during this pandemic the majority are probably working more than ever, and HRs themselves need to call in support services to help.”