For the first time stress tops the list as the most common cause of long-term absence from work in Britain, a survey revealed.

The survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and healthcare provider Simplyhealth found that stress is a now the number one cause of long term absence, outstripping medical conditions such as cancer.

The study of 600 organisations shows strong links between job security and stress levels, with employers planning redundancies more likely to report an increase in mental health problems among staff.

The public sector was hardest hit by stress-related absence with the average absence at 9.1 days per employee per year.

UK employers estimate that they lose an average £673 per employee per year through absences down to serious illness, stress or family commitments.

Gill Phipps, of Simplyhealth, said that stress in the workplace could result in loss of productivity and “disengaged employees”.

“It’s therefore encouraging that almost half of employers have a well-being strategy in place, with 73 per cent offering counselling services and a further 69 per cent providing an employee assistance programme.”

He also recommended processes that “allow employees access to information and advice on workplace issues, as well as emotional, psychological and personal issues” were communicated effectively to employees, he said.

Dr Jill Miller, a CIPD adviser, said managers needed to be able to identify signs of people having difficulty coping at work and to provide the relevant support.