This week sees Stress Awareness Day 2015. The awareness day on the 4th November aims to highlight the importance of workplace wellbeing, because stress is often an unseen and overlooked risk to personal and business health.
The issue of stress in the workplace can be a critical one, because if employee stress is not managed appropriately then it can affect both absence and productivity. However, too few employers consider how stress affects their employees and how to manage it.
Stress Awareness Day aims to help organisations identify and combat stress in the workplace, which is why the theme for this year’s Stress Awareness Day is “Employee wellbeing as a worthwhile investment in your business”.
What is stress?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them’.
It’s not a medical condition in itself, but it can lead to conditions such as anxiety, depression, headaches and other physical issues. People suffering from stress are more likely to drink and/or smoke excessively, and suffer from sleep problems.
Research from the CIPD identifies workload and management style as the top two causes of work-related stress. However, CIPD members estimate that 60% of stress-related absence is for non-work causes.
This makes it challenging for employers to help their employees manage stress. But employers can’t just ignore the issue because it’s not a work problem, whatever the issue is it will impact on a person’s ability to perform their role to the best of their ability.
The business case for employee wellbeing and managing stress
UK workers take over 15 million days off a year due to stress, depression and anxiety. And UK employers lose £26 billion each year due to stress, an average of £1,035 for every staff member.
However, research has suggested that less than half of employees would tell their manager about feeling stressed, so it can remain an invisible but severely detrimental business risk.
In additional to stress-related sickness absence costs, stress can cause other issues for organisations:
Increased accident and injury rates – evidence suggests that when people are stressed there are more likely to have an accident or injury caused by a lack of concentration, forgetfulness or reduced motivation.
More workplace conflict – increased stress levels can lead to reduced interpersonal skills and therefore increase instances of conflict in the workplace.
Poor employee-manager relations – stress at work affects manager-employee relationships and can lead to accusations of bullying, harassment and discrimination.
Damage to reputation – stressed employees are less likely to be responsive to customer needs, and that can increase customer complaints and reduce customer satisfaction.
Recruitment and retention difficulties – a reputation for not looking after employees can lead to staff recruitment and retention problems.
Investor relations – some institutional investors have now started to investigate how organisations manage stress-related risks and base their investment decisions on the results.
Prevention for all
The best way to manage stress in the workplace is not to single out an individual employee, but to provide a programme that addresses stress management and prevention for all employees.
A great start is to have an organisational stress policy: a document that defines your organisation’s strategy for tackling stress in the workplace and who is responsible for what.
You can also implement simple actions to help manage and prevent stress:
- Look at the demands of the employee’s role
- Ensure people are clear on what their role involves, and what it does not cover
- Clarify the support employees need to do their job
- Ensure communication is clear and two-way
- Train managers to spot the signs of stress in employees and how to raise the subject
You can also implement initiatives to help employees combat stress. For example, recently an all-party parliamentary group inquiry recommended the public sector leads workplace best practice by offering staff mindfulness programmes to help them combat stress and improve organisational effectiveness.
So why not use Stress Awareness Day 2015 as a launch pad to help organisation combat employee stress?