Taking work related stress seriously can have huge benefits for employees and businesses
Stress-related illnesses at work are one of the biggest reasons for absenteeism and loss of productivity in the UK workforce, with research from Britain’s Healthiest Company finding this added up to £57billion a year in lost productivity.
The main factors which caused work-related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures such as tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support, according to a Labour Force Survey.
Mark Beatson, chief economist at the CIPD, says: “A lot of work-related stress starts off with overwork. How do you stop that turning into unmanageable stress? Part of it, first of all, is trying to manage the workload as best you can and don’t simply just keep piling stuff on without any thought about what it entails.
“The second most important point is to give the employee some bit of control over their work. Employees can feel a lot better about their workload and managing it if they have a degree of choice. For example, in which order they do it or exactly how they do it.
“That can be a lot less stressful than other extremes, where everything is to the last possible little detail, or done to a rulebook or something, where the employee has no real influence over what they are trying to do.
“The other thing that has shown to be really important in this environment is support. Employees need to feel like they can get support when they need it, even if they do not need it – particularly from line managers, but also from their colleagues.
“What some employees also provide is employee assistance services. It is usually an outsourced facility where employees who want to talk to somebody about a problem can do so. If somebody is feeling under the cosh, they have somebody to ring up and talk to, independent of the employer.”
Although under health and safety regulation companies have a legal and moral duty to make sure their employees are not injured or made ill because of the work they do, sometimes they do not always follow best practices.
Nigel Marsh, the international bestselling author of Fat, Forty And Fired said in his TED talk How To Make Work-Life Balance Work, “Commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you as they can get away with. It’s in their nature, it’s in their DNA, it’s what they do – even the good, well-intentioned companies.”
To be balanced, Marsh believes you have to attend to the intellectual side, the emotional side and the spiritual side. “We need to approach balance in a balanced way,” he said. “Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life.
“It can transform society. Because if enough people do it, we can change society’s definition of success away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money when he dies wins, to a more thoughtful and balanced definition of what a life well lived looks like.”
It makes good business sense to have a good health and wellbeing programme in place, that can make employees’ jobs enjoyable, give them a good work-life balance and reduce stress.
Research from the Britain’s Healthiest Company study found companies with the largest health promotion budgets saw an 8 per cent year-on-year improvement in the proportion of employees in good or excellent health, and a 16 per cent year-on-year reduction in productivity loss.
To help give companies guidance on how to do this, Mind is launching a Workplace Wellbeing Index. Mind will offer support and guidance to participating organisations based on their results. The index will become a benchmark of best policy and practice and will publicly rank employers on how effectively they are addressing staff mental wellbeing.
Beatson says: “It tends to be done as part of a parcel rather than something that is done to individuals on its own. Typically employers that engage in health and wellbeing programmes are doing all the other good things like employee engagement programmes.
“We are now seeing employers bolting onto their programmes ways to help employees manage their finances better. That is an area we are seeing a lot more interest in now. It is one of the main causes of physical and mental problems at work.”
There’s no doubt a stressed workforce helps neither employees nor employer. Having a company health and wellbeing programme in place would certainly seem worth the investment