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‘Work stress is often ignored’

Stress has become the most common reason for a worker being signed off on long-term sick leave, a report has said. Pic: Mndeni Vilakazi

Stress has become the most common reason for a worker being signed off on long-term sick leave, a report has said. Pic: Mndeni Vilakazi

Published Nov 2, 2011

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It is estimated that between 15 percent and 30 percent of working South Africans will experience mental problems at some point. While most recover fully, about 30 percent will suffer chronic mental health problems.

“Numerous studies have proven the correlation between stress, including pressures within the workplace, and mental illnesses. Acting as a trigger to severe psychiatric conditions such as depression, stress can also lead to acute psychotic episodes.

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“Other health risks include a reduced immune response, increased risk of heart disease, stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome to name a few examples,” says Jacques Snyman, product development director at Agility Global Health Solutions.

From a business perspective, the results are worth stressing over. An Australian study conducted by Medibank found that stress-related absenteeism and presenteeism cost the US economy $14.81 billion (R118bn) a year. For employers, the direct cost was estimated at $10.11bn.

“While little research exists from a local perspective, the South African Stress and Health study ranked the country as seventh highest in the world for the prevalence of mood disorders and sixth for the prevalence of anxiety disorders. CAM Solutions, a local company that measures and monitors corporate absenteeism, attributed 3.4 percent of all sick leave taken in the first half of 2008 to psychological conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety,” says Snyman.

“There’s no quick fix for chronic stress and the cure often requires remedial action. Further aggravating the situation is that work stress is often ignored to the detriment of both the employee and employer in the form of productivity loss. Group counselling sessions and a planned strategy for the workplace go a long way in identifying underlying issues.

“Coping strategies and defining job stress are important aspects of an intervention programme aimed at reducing and preventing burnouts within the workforce.

“An important part of the success of such a strategy would be the integration of a company wellness programme with the health care providing medical scheme.

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“By employing a proactive approach, employers can ensure that employees are directed towards the appropriate care timeously, thus reducing the knock-on effects of absenteeism and lost productivity.” - The Mercury

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