Blog by Neil Shah,
Neil Shah, Chief De-stressor at the Stress Management Society, will be chairing the Workplace Wellbeing and Stress Summit 2013.
Resulting in the loss of some 13 million working days each year at a cost of £15bn to UK businesses, employee stress is an issue few can afford to ignore.
Considering the state of the global economy, it comes as no surprise that cases of employee stress continues to rise year on year – across geographies, industries and job types. What’s more, a recent report by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work found the UK has the highest incidence of stress of the six major global economies, with those aged 55 to 64 the most at risk.
But, in my opinion, it is not only financial concerns that are to blame. Modern technologies mean we can access information wherever and whenever we want, so we rarely ever switch off, It also means that more is expected of us. We’re busier and under more pressure than ever before. However, our bodies weren’t designed to handle this pace of life. It’s the equivalent of expecting a 100m runner to maintain a sprint over the course of a marathon. The resulting stress can increase the likelihood of suffering from heart disease, the UK’s biggest killer, cancer, diabetes and strokes.
For businesses, stress can lead to increased staff absence and turnover; ‘presenteeism’ or staff coming into work while unwell; and reduced productivity and morale. While it isn’t always easy to attribute these impacts directly to stress or mental health problems, there are signs that managers can, and should, look for. When an employee becomes stressed, they may become withdrawn, indecisive, inflexible or irritable, or suddenly verbally or physically aggressive. Headaches, stomach disorders and heart palpitations are also common, and they may start to experience anxiety, fear, anger, frustration and depression.
The stigma attached to mental health problems means employees may not talk – even in confidence – about their issues for fear of discrimination or even redundancy. Yet it is only through such openness that employers can offer support. Employers must foster a mentally healthy environment by committing to promoting a better awareness and understanding of mental health issues across the workforce.
Employers have a duty of care to their employees, both moral and legal, and have a pivotal role to play in their wellbeing. That means looking after not only their health and safety at work, but their mental and physical health.
In recent years, organisations have become better at assessing the cost of stress and the benefits of addressing it and firms are more likely to understand that it is vital to protect your most valuable asset – your people.
Simple interventions such as being mindful to take regular breaks and working without stress means you get more done, make fewer mistakes and produce better results. When someone is stressed, their brain is in ‘fight or flight’ or survival mode. It’s not working to maximum effect, because it doesn’t need to.
What’s more, investing in preventing and addressing stress can pay dividends. Research suggests that every £1 invested in wellbeing can reap between £3 and £6 in reduced absence and higher productivity. Implementing a formal mental health guidance and policy, which is clearly communicated to managers and employees, and providing a comfortable working environment, are important first steps. However something as simple as smiling can also reduce stress in the workplace!
Managers, meanwhile, have a pivotal role to play, being visible, approachable and open to discussion. If you want a culture of no stress, it’s up to the manager to champion it.