Tom Marsden, CEO of Saberr, discusses how stress at work is a problem for everyone, not just the individual, and what businesses can do to prevent it

Wednesday 4th November: Today is National Stress Awareness Day, so it’s as good a time as ever to take stock of the nature of our workplaces and how they can affect the mental health of employees. According to the HSE, stress accounts for 35% of all work related illnesses, 43% of sick days, and the psychological problems that stress causes, such as anxiety and depression, account for one in five visits to a GP.

It’s therefore apparent that stress is causing a big strain not just on Britain’s businesses, but on the public purse as well. Business leaders should be examining the factors in their workplace which may contribute to employee stress.

One of the most apparent causes of stress for workers is the people they work with – this is ironic given it’s the area business leaders often have most control over: managers and recruiters decide who joins the company, and business unit leaders are in charge of assembling teams. Up until now, however, managers have been too passive in team design and hiring. Judgments about whether an external hire will be compatible with his/her team-members are still, on the whole, being driven entirely by the gut. Even internal team formation, where managers know the personalities of team members very well, is reactive and unscientific.

When designing teams in the workplace, the focus should be not just on skills and ‘personality’ but on shared values and quality of the potential relationships. We are after all social animals and the science of how networks perform highlights that individuals are significantly affected by their peers.

Applying just a little thought towards intelligent team design could result in significantly reduced stress and increased employee wellbeing. These things contribute a great deal to a company’s bottom line, however indirectly.

There is a growing amount of data to support the design of compatibile teams. This can give us an important perspective on getting team design right. Teams are the engine rooms of great organisations, and it’s essential to ensure your teams are happy and successful. Algorithmically-driven surveys can help unmask qualities in new hires or new team members that wouldn’t become apparent in the standard interview process. The result being a healthily diverse team with complementary, not stress-inducing conflicting personalities.

It is proven that relationships are the real motivator at work – more so even than money. Professor John Helliwell from the University of British Columbia concluded that trust was one of the most highly regarded values at work. Staggeringly, his research found that a one tenth increase in trust in management is equivalent to more than a one third increase in income.

Given that relationships at work can provide us with such great rewards in terms of happiness, it’s surprising business leaders haven’t done more to try and quantify this already. Yet despite the fast growing evidence that happy, productive individuals work within happy, productive teams, teams are still too often the forgotten force when it comes to maintaining employee well-being. However as a result of more research into the science of well-being, companies are now in the fortunate position of being able to design teams that will both succeed and cater to an individual’s stress-free happiness in the workplace.

Ultimately it’s up to managers to consider both the impact of their leadership style on individual employees and to consider their team dynamics more closely and objectively. As we’ve seen, to not do so is to encourage stress to form in the office unnecessarily and with it, commensurate losses in workplace productivity. Using the data that we now have at our fingertips can help create a smoother management process for business leaders and make work more enjoyable and stress-free for the individual.

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