Stressed employees raise absenteeism levels

Absenteeism due to stress increased slightly in South African companies in 2008 compared with the previous year, an indication of tougher economic times, a study revealed on Thursday.

So far, 3,4% of all sick leave taken until the end of June this year was due to stress, depression and anxiety, according to Cams, a company that looks at corporate absenteeism.

This is in line with indications that the country is experiencing an economic downturn.

In 2007, this figure was 3,1%; in 2006, it was 3,9%.

Said Cams CEO Johnny Johnson: “Noting these statistics, it seems obvious that with the economic situation worsening in the country and firms (especially in the industrial sector) cutting back on staff, employees might be feeling more strain, whether it be financial or emotional due to the risk of losing their jobs.”

The research was done with the help of statistics from 100 000 employees in 60 companies, using data from doctor-issued sick certificates.

“Companies should therefore continue to ask themselves what they could do to make their staff happy and productive.” If not, Johnson added, employees might eventually become “so stressed as to be debilitated in the working environment”.

According to the study, some companies have already found innovative ways of dealing with employee stress.
One example is Continental Tyre South Africa (CTSA) offering debt-counselling services to staff.

The Eastern Cape’s first registered debt counsellor, Zuki Bhaku, also a former CTSA employee, pays weekly visits to the firm’s head office in Port Elizabeth to help employees manage and pay off their debts.

Bhaku said CTSA realised that many employees were in severe financial difficulty and this was causing absenteeism because they couldn’t even pay minibus taxi fares.

“Debt-counsellor consultation fees are paid by CTSA on behalf of their employees so they can access this service for free. The tyre firm does not know the names of the employees who come to me for a consultation, only the number of employees who are using the service,” said Bhaku.

Cams said that about R19,1-billion was lost due to “sick absenteeism” in the country in 2007.—Sapa

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