With many UK businesses focusing on the importance of mental health and wellbeing amongst their employees, there has never been a better time to assess the impact of stress on your business. In the ever-changing world of business, low levels of stress during busy periods can sometimes be unavoidable, but it is important to monitor to ensure that it does not become the prevalent state of being within your business.
Indeed, the Stevenson-Farmer review into mental health and employers found that, in addition to the human costs of mental illness and workplace stress, the economic costs to employers, the government and to the business economy as a whole were far greater than anticipated. The review commissioned analysis from Deloitte on the costs to employers of mental health and stress – it found that the estimated costs per employee were between £1,205 and £1,560 per year. This equates to a total cost to UK businesses of between £33 billion and £42 billion per year (Deloitte, 2017). This is made up of:
- Absenteeism costs: £8 billion
- Presenteeism costs: £17 billion to £26 billion
- Staff turnover: £8 billion
The cost of stress in the workplace can also be measured by a downturn in individual productivity – for example, a report commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive found that absences caused by stress and depression / anxiety accounted to the vast majority of days lost due to work-related ill health, at 15.4 million and 6.6 million respectively.
What are the top causes of stress in the workplace?
The Health and Safety Executive association within the UK have identified the top six causes of accumulative stress in the workplace. These are made up of:
- The demands of the role
- The level of control over the role
- The support received from managers and colleagues
- Relationships in the workplace
- The employee’s role within the organisation
- Organisational change and how it is managed
By keeping these important areas in mind, you can not only improve stress levels within your business, but also monitor your morale and productivity levels. By reducing stress across the company, you should start to see a rise in overall morale, and a correlating rise in business productivity and performance. If stress is left largely unchecked, it can also very easily result in heightened staff turnover levels.
What the are signs that an individual employee could be suffering from stress?
Whilst the cause of stress can be completely subjective, and depend largely on an individual’s own mindset, as well as personal and professional circumstances, some rough classifications into which identifiable stress symptoms and behaviours could fall into include those listed below. It is important to note that an employee could well exhibit signs from one, all or a mixture of these categories:
- Cognitive – Have you noticed that an employee is is making more mistakes than usual, missing deadlines, having problems making decisions or is simply struggling to concentrate? These can all be signs of cognitive stress.
- Emotional – Does an employee seem particularly sensitive to criticism, more irritable in mood, less confident in themselves or less engaged in their role. These issues can all point towards emotional stress triggers.
- Behavioural – Have you observed an employee arriving late, not taking their allocated breaks, taking unofficial time off, or socially withdrawing from their colleagues? These areas can all indicated behavioural stress signals.
- Physical – Lastly, an employee suffering from the physical signs of stress can exhibit symptoms such as increased colds and coughs, being tired at work, becoming unconcerned about their appearance, or rapidly losing or gaining weight.
Are there short term ways to avoid a stressful business culture?
There are numerous ways that you can actively tackle a stress problem within your business, but successful initiatives usually contain a mixture of short and long term strategies. We’ve gathered a few of our favourites together to guide you:
- Offer stress management workshops – Invite all staff and teach them ways in which to cope and manage stressful situations that could arise.
- Keep an eye on staff holiday entitlement – If certain employees aren’t using their full quota, try and remind them of the importance of breaks from the workplace.
- Lead by example – If you are on annual leave, make a point of not replying to emails or phone calls. This will help your staff to understand that being able to relax is acceptable when on holiday.
- Be aware of workloads – Spotting and intervening if you notice unreasonable demands could make a huge difference to team or individual stress levels.
- Embrace recognition – All employees like to be praised for a job well done, so it is important to either install a formal recognition programme, or else encourage a culture of reward and thanks for jobs that are done well.
Are there long term ways to avoid a stressful business culture?
- Advocate training – By offering things such as job shadowing, refresher training or certified management courses, you can help your employees to feel comfortable and confident.
- Look at your general working environment – Are there distractions you can remove, or changes that can be made to seating considerations?
- Consider third party help – Do you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)? Investing in such a system can allow employees to access free, impartial advice on a variety of situations and workplace concerns.
- Consider self-help strategies – Could you work with an approved practitioner to offer courses in relaxation, time management, stress reduction or mindfulness? Offering weekly yoga or pilates classes can also be a very popular way to reduce stress levels.
- Reduce possible pressure points – Job roles are all levels are never pressure-free, but considering implementing flexible working where possible, or the option to work from home, can go a long way towards helping employees to balance their work and personal lives.
What management behaviours are important in managing stress?
A great way to reduce stress levels is offer training to all managers; whether new or well-established; on how to help their direct reports to handle stressful or pressurised situations. The key characteristics that managers can adopt to benefit their staff can include:
- Assuming responsibility and showing respect to direct reports – Human emotions are unavoidable in business, but a good manager should be able to shied their direct team as much as possible by assuming overall responsibility. If someone has made a mistake, treating them with respect whilst establishing what has happened, and how to avoid it reoccurring, can go a long way towards lowering stress levels.
- Managing and communicating workloads – Managers should spend much of their time helping staff to anticipate, plan and manage their workloads around business demands. Pre-planning wherever possible can be key to reducing stress, and can also encourage problem solving and issue spotting ahead of time.
- Treating employees equally and fairly – Ideally, this should include an open-door policy for feedback, complaints and new ideas. If all staff feel that they are listened too and treated equally, they are far more likely to be forthcoming in these areas. If managers can sympathise with heavy workloads, and keep flexibility in hours, workload and location open to all, they are likely to see a much more productive team as result.
- Offering support with managing difficult situations – Conflict can be a difficult subject within the workplace, but a good manager should be able to offer advice and support should such a situation arise, including taking responsibility for resolving the issue if necessary.
Why are wellbeing initiatives important?
Whilst many businesses tend to react to stressful working conditions by implementing a formal ‘stress’ policy, others have found that a wider wellbeing policy can be much more effective, as they can not only reduce stress levels, but also maximise the overall wellbeing levels of employees. Most effective wellbeing initiatives take into account a variety of considerations related to the overall health of employees, including mental health, physical health, the working environment, working relationships, career development, fair pay and benefits policies, diversity and inclusion, and leadership standards.
Different companies will understandably focus more or less on a combination of the areas listed above, depending on their industry, personal business strategy, and cultural approach to employee wellbeing, but ensuring that you have an awareness of them all will stand you in good stead when it comes to reducing stress levels through wellbeing.