Unions have called on the HSE and employers to make tackling stress a priority as British workers try to cope with growing financial uncertainty. While the emphasis has been on pay freezes and job losses unions have said that stress can have just as devastating effect. This follows new research by the University of Nottingham and University of Ulster which shows that work-related stress increases during a recession, leading to more employees taking time off. A study among tens of thousands of civil servants in Northern Ireland 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. TUC Head of health and safety, Hugh Robertson, said more attention has to be paid to the effects that cuts and economic hardship have on the mental health of the workforce. The economic crisis does not give employers immunity from complying with the law and the government, and regulators should be taking action to ensure that employers are risk assessing the implications of any staffing or organisational changes. 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."

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