Work-related stress increases during a recession, leading to more employees taking time off, according to new research by the University of Ulster.
A study among tens of thousands of civil servants in Northern Ireland, carried out by Dr Robert Kerr at the Ulster Business School in collaboration with researchers at the University of Nottingham, found that one in four workers experienced work-related stress in times of recession.
The study, published in the scientific journal, Occupational Medicine, revealed that work-related stress increased by 40% during an economic downturn.
It also found that the number of staff taking time off due to job stress increased by 25% and total time off due to these types of psychological problems increased by more than a third during a slump.
Dr Robert Kerr from the University of Ulster said: "Thisstudy offers the first large-scale examination of psychosocial issues in UK civil servants beyond the capital, and is the first of a series of studies investigating the health and wellbeing of Northern Ireland civil servants under the banner of the Stormont Study."
Jonathan Houdmont from Nottingham University, the study's lead author, said national economic crises can have substantial implications for workers' health and organisational performance, adding: "The findings suggest that those businesses which seek to reduce work-related stress during austere economic times are likely to experience lower staff absence and greater productivity."
Sarah Page, health and safety officer at the Prospect union, commented: "When workers face reduced job security and an increased workload it is no surprise that depression and anxiety increase, along with absences from work. People feel afraid, uncertain, less supported by managers, and less in control of their lives.
"Previous studies of civil servants had shown that if organisational changes occur without consulting and involving the workforce, the effects on individuals are far more damaging.
"This is an issue where government, employers and unions can make a difference by working together. Employers have a duty to ensure workers' health, safety and welfare at work, and that includes mental health. It shouldn't be about trying to mop up the mess when it's too late, but about introducing preventive measures and support networks."