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Stress had a noticeable impact on businesses in 2012, according to more than two fifths (42%) of senior managers from small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) surveyed for global insurer Zurich's latest quarterly SME Risk Index.

According to a fifth (19%) of SMEs surveyed, workforce absence levels have risen over the past two years, with 12% reporting more short-term stress-related absences of less than four weeks in the last year.

And when the results for small (10-49 employees) and medium-sized (50-249 employees) enterprises are looked at separately, absence levels for the past two years are up by 27% for small companies and 30% for medium ones,  suggesting that the impact of stress on absence could be an increasing worry as businesses become larger and more established.

A quarter (25%) of SMEs surveyed also reported lower morale amongst their employees due to workforce stress in 2012, with this again rising to 27% & 39% amongst small and medium businesses respectively.

However there is some optimism about the year ahead, with the prospect of a stronger economic environment (33%) and expansion of business in the UK (29%) being cited as the two biggest opportunities for 2013.

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