Increasing number of people off work due to stress, says Minister De Sutter

Increasing number of people off work due to stress, says Minister De Sutter
Minister for Civil Service, Petra De Sutter. Credit: Belga.

According to Petra De Sutter, the Federal Minister of Civil Service, stress-related sick days are on the rise among workers.

Figures for 2021 show that stress accounted for 40.4% of all reported work absences, a 4.2 percent rise over 2020. This was the most common cause stated, followed by joint disorders (19.7%), cancer (6.3%), and respiratory illnesses (4.2%).

Her own sector, the Federal Civil Service, has seen a significant rise in days off due to stress. "In recent years, government staff has endured cut after cut," the Minister added, "which means that the same amount of work has been done by considerably fewer people, increasing the total level stress at work."

Just as the risk of burnout has grown during the same time period, De Sutter has made it one of her priorities to prevent stress leading to professional burn-outs.

More training for less stress

To combat this, De Sutter has called on workplaces to be more accepting of mental health struggles, as well as being a strong advocate for the right to disconnect.

To that end, she has expanded the number of government stress and burn-out coaches from 35 to 59, with additional training days planned.

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"We've already organised 90 training days, and they were all full", the Minister explained. "I remain cautious, however these figures do show that the mental health stigma is being broken."

Career guidance for all

De Sutter also sees career guidance as a potential remedy to these woes. Internally, it has been offered to government personnel, and an increasing number of them are taking advantage of it. "In 2021, 378 individuals utilized it," she said, whereas "the previous year, it was just 212."

For her, this demonstrates that an increasing number of individuals are taking the time to reflect on their careers and consider what they truly want. "Almost all participants (96%) have taken their careers into their own hands as a result of career guidance," De Sutter said, "which can lead to job changes, training, a different position, or a better balance between work and private life."

She has put this steep rise down to the consequences of the global pandemic which had led to more and more people openly talking about their mental health.

"This is why I want to invest in even more career guidance", the Groen Minister concluded, "for the time being, we have mainly reached well-educated civil servants and I want everyone to have access to career guidance."

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