Stress is often an all-too-common feature of modern workplaces, and most people know someone who has had to take time off work as a result either of stress or a related illness.

According to a new whitepaper, employers seeking to minimise the amount of stress-related sickness in their organisations simply need to think about the problem in a different way.

In Rethinking Stress, Right Management Workplace Wellness and Manpower Group found that 64 per cent of those employing non-manual workers cite stress as one of the top five reasons given for long-term sickness absence.

However, when it comes to short-term absence, the stigma that is still attached to mental health disorders in many places continues to take its toll, meaning stress-related absence is actually more likely to be explained by using short-term physical sickness as an excuse.

If employers want to understand and then reduce the impact of absences caused by stress, the whitepaper states they will need to take a new approach that involves meeting a person’s holistic needs so that they will make the choice to come into work instead of staying at home.

This comes down to the pivotal “decision moment” – a significant point in time before a worker goes to bed, or when they first get up in the morning, where they make the conscious choice to prepare for work or to do something else.

Even if it is not a conscious process, a worker considers both their physical and psychological needs at each of these points. In physiological terms, this will include how they feel, whether they are contagious, the consequences of absence, whether work will make the problem worse.

But psychologically, other issues come into play such as whether work makes them feel better or worse, whether their physical and emotional needs are met there, whether they feel safe and supported in the workplace and how colleagues have been treated when they have suffered from stress or another mental health issue.

Although the report shows that around 85 per cent of the problems which cause stress and affect performance at work are not directly related to the employee’s role, managers need to be in a position to understand and empathise with their staff when they discuss these issues and ensure they feel supported.

By doing so, they will change the outcome of each decision moment and encourage staff to come into work instead of staying away.