More than 50 finance industry professionals in Jersey attended a breakfast briefing about managing absence and stress in the workplace at a Carey Olsen seminar last week.

The seminar, which took place at the Pomme D’Or Hotel on Friday 25 May, was chaired by Carey Olsen partner Siobhan Riley with senior associate, Huw Thomas, from the firm’s employment team as a speaker.

Advocate Riley said: “Given the current economic climate, job uncertainty is at a high level causing much anxiety for employers and employees.

“We are told that businesses will play an integral role in resolving the economic problems – employee wellbeing is key to the success of this strategy. Therefore it is important to provide human resource (HR) and business managers with the skills to manage absence and stress in the workplace.”

Mr Thomas advised the audience that businesses needed to do more to understand the causes of both short and long term absence in the workplace. He said that both short and long term absence could be damaging for companies – particularly for small businesses.

“Absence can quickly increase the costs for businesses, for example the burden of engaging temporary and/or agency providers to cover absence, and it can also reduce morale and cooperation among team members which can affect productivity and client service.

“No business is immune to these problems so it is important that employers understand and address the actual causes of absence,” said Mr Thomas.

He reported that non-work related mental health issues, such as depression and stress, are the biggest drivers of long-term absence according to UK statistics.

In relation to work related stress, Mr Thomas said: “It is not helpful to consider stress and absence in isolation from each other. Organisations which address absence issues effectively are in a much better position to address the complexity of stress related illnesses and absence.”

Mr Thomas advised that employers should develop formal attendance policies and targets, including appropriate limits on sick pay and employee wellbeing policies, provide employees with access to occupational health services and challenge and change unhealthy workplace cultures that foster higher rates of absence. Return to work interviews were cited as the single most effective tool for reducing absence as it provided individuals and managers with a private forum for discussing and resolving on-going issues.

“Statistics demonstrate that businesses that proactively engage with absence issues see material benefits in lower absence rates and higher productivity. However, there are challenges for Jersey employers in dealing with absence issues, including the lack of appropriately trained and qualified medical practitioners in Jersey. It would greatly assist the management of absence and stress issues within the workplace if more local healthcare professionals are trained in occupational health,” said Mr Thomas.