Heavy workloads and personal relationships are the main drivers of growing stress and anxiety levels among Kiwi workers, a survey says.

The latest Workplace Wellness Report also shows a net 23.5 per cent of surveyed businesses reported their staff were more stressed than before.

The research, released today by Southern Cross and BusinessNZ, is part of a biennial survey running over the last six years.

It also shows absent employees cost the New Zealand economy $1.79 billion in 2018, up from $1.51 billion in 2016.

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But Southern Cross chief executive Nick Astwick said businesses were starting to make moves to tackle both problems, by investing in their staff members' "resilience".

Southern Cross chief executive Nick Astwick said workplaces were investing more in helping their staff become resilient. Photo / Supplied
Southern Cross chief executive Nick Astwick said workplaces were investing more in helping their staff become resilient. Photo / Supplied

"A lot of employers now are looking at the human, not just the employee," he said.

"People that are more resilient and more flourishing in their home life are actually more resilient to the work pressures.

"Yes, while work pressure is a demand, if you look after the human, invest in their resiliency, the work pressure doesn't be as prevalent."

More workplaces were starting to focus on resiliency by bringing in more "wellbeing" measures.

This included free flu jabs and health checks, paying specialists and clinicians to come into the office, providing health plans, and allowing "flexible" working.

One Southern Cross employee, Kim Rutherford, still remembers the "nightmare" feeling of trying to get from work to her child's daycare by 6pm in Auckland traffic, and feeling her stress levels rise as she watched the clock in her car.

"I physically couldn't get to the daycare to pick him up at 6 o'clock," said Rutherford, who is a solo mother.

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Now she has a laptop she can take home with her, and works flexible hours to fit around caring for her son.

She was glad to be working at a company that encouraged people to take care of their wellbeing.

"We encourage people to go out for walks and do walking meetings. It's really nice just to know we can get out of the office and take a break when we need," she said.

The survey showed businesses invested an estimated $2.37 billion in staff wellbeing in 2018, which came out to an average $1500 a year per employee.

Kirk Hope said businesses need to create a culture that encourages people to take sick days if needed. Photo / Supplied
Kirk Hope said businesses need to create a culture that encourages people to take sick days if needed. Photo / Supplied

"We're really pleased to see that there is a maturity in valuing the health and wellbeing of employees," said Astwick.

"There's still lots to do but clearly that shift is starting to happen."

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said the cost of absenteeism was significant but there were some positive indicators in the research.

For example, more staff were feeling comfortable taking time off work instead of coming in sick, he said.

The number of people coming to work sick had dropped to 35 per cent from 49 per cent in 2012.

"This major drop shows workplace culture is shifting ... New Zealand businesses need to recognise the importance of creating a culture where people feel they can stay at home when they are unwell."

The survey was conducted by speaking to 99 businesses - which represent more than 121,000 or 6.21 per cent of the New Zealand workforce.