The secret to tackling workplace stress The secret to tackling workplace stress

The secret to tackling workplace stress
14 Nov 2017

The link between workplace stress and poor mental health is well-established, but the issue is an important one in that it has an impact on every employer across the globe. A study by the Regus Group reveals, for example, that three out of five workers in all of the major world economies are currently experiencing an increase in workplace stress levels.

One in five Britons take at least one day off a year due to this situation, while the problem is estimated to cost US organisations up to $300 billion every year. As a result, it will come as no surprise that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has branded this growing phenomenon as the health epidemic of the 21st century.

But awareness of the issue is steadily rising up the corporate agenda too due to its impact on productivity, efficiency, staff retention and, ultimately, profitability. So what are the main causes of stress and what can employers do about it?

There are many causes of workplace stress, which of course vary with each individual. But a key reason for it over recent times is the ubiquity of technology and the fact that employees are now able to communicate with each other 24/7. This means that a lot of people feel pressured to be permanently ‘electronically tethered’ to their place of work.

Other core reasons behind the problem include over-demanding workloads, lack of control over work processes and unsatisfactory working conditions. Research from the WHO shows that the most stressful type of work is that which places excessive demands on employees who do not have the knowledge or abilities to cope. Workers also find it stressful if they have little opportunity to exercise any choice or control over what they do and if they receive minimal (or no) support from managers or colleagues.

The problem is that prolonged periods of stress can place huge strains on individuals, both from a physical perspective in the shape of migraines, high blood pressure and even heart disease, and from a mental health viewpoint. Here the condition often manifests as depression, anxiety or panic attacks. But unlike physical ailments, it is not always possible to see the symptoms of mental ill health, which can lead to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. For the individual, on the other hand, it can have a significant impact on their confidence, self-esteem, concentration, engagement and motivation.

From an employer’s perspective, the impact of a team member’s poor mental health can include lower productivity levels, diminished morale (both in terms of the individual and the wider team) and reduced efficiency.

Barriers to tackling the problem

But employers generally face two major barriers in managing the stress and mental health of their workers effectively. The first is a lack of proper understanding of the subject, and mental health as a whole. This means they do not always feel confident enough to act appropriately and, therefore, shy away from the problem.

The second issue is simply a lack of willingness to engage and delve any deeper into it in order to solve the problem. As a result, the situation is blamed on either operational matters or poor individual performance.

But in reality, much can be achieved by approaching the subject head-on. Managers, in particular, are in a position to monitor their team’s workloads more closely, increase their efforts at communication and make small changes to their behaviour to make themselves appear more approachable rather than too busy to interrupt.

Sadly though, there is still a huge stigma around mental health issues, with many individuals feeling uncomfortable in talking openly to colleagues or superiors about the issues they face. Unfortunately, this situation simply compounds problems still further.

But one way of getting around this challenge is to provide managers with effective training. The aim is to equip them with the skills and confidence required to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health problems and effectively guide sufferers towards the right kind of support.

For instance, one of the first signs that someone may be suffering from mental illness is a change in their behaviour. If they always arrived on time, dressed smartly and were polite and deferential but suddenly come in late, look dishevelled and are irritable or tearful, it may be a sign that something is not right.

Ensuring that adequate help and support are provided at the earliest possible stage can have significant benefits for both the individual and the wider organisation. It is not about training managers to become therapists and psychiatrists but rather encouraging them to take their heads out of the sand and realise that workplace stress is a very real – and growing – problem, which is already having a major impact on business performance.

“Prolonged periods of stress can place huge strains on individuals, both from a physical perspective in the shape of migraines, high blood pressure and even heart disease, and from a mental health viewpoint.”

 

Kevin Rogers is chief executive of not-for-profit health cover provider, Paycare. A qualified accountant and associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, he has worked for more than 25 years in senior management roles at organisations in the manufacturing, automotive and construction sectors.

 

The link between workplace stress and poor mental health is well-established, but the issue is an important one in that it has an impact on every employer across the globe. A study by the Regus Group reveals, for example, that three out of five workers in all of the major world economies are currently experiencing an increase in workplace stress levels.

One in five Britons take at least one day off a year due to this situation, while the problem is estimated to cost US organisations up to $300 billion every year. As a result, it will come as no surprise that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has branded this growing phenomenon as the health epidemic of the 21st century.

But awareness of the issue is steadily rising up the corporate agenda too due to its impact on productivity, efficiency, staff retention and, ultimately, profitability. So what are the main causes of stress and what can employers do about it?

There are many causes of workplace stress, which of course vary with each individual. But a key reason for it over recent times is the ubiquity of technology and the fact that employees are now able to communicate with each other 24/7. This means that a lot of people feel pressured to be permanently ‘electronically tethered’ to their place of work.

Other core reasons behind the problem include over-demanding workloads, lack of control over work processes and unsatisfactory working conditions. Research from the WHO shows that the most stressful type of work is that which places excessive demands on employees who do not have the knowledge or abilities to cope. Workers also find it stressful if they have little opportunity to exercise any choice or control over what they do and if they receive minimal (or no) support from managers or colleagues.

The problem is that prolonged periods of stress can place huge strains on individuals, both from a physical perspective in the shape of migraines, high blood pressure and even heart disease, and from a mental health viewpoint. Here the condition often manifests as depression, anxiety or panic attacks. But unlike physical ailments, it is not always possible to see the symptoms of mental ill health, which can lead to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. For the individual, on the other hand, it can have a significant impact on their confidence, self-esteem, concentration, engagement and motivation.

From an employer’s perspective, the impact of a team member’s poor mental health can include lower productivity levels, diminished morale (both in terms of the individual and the wider team) and reduced efficiency.

Barriers to tackling the problem

But employers generally face two major barriers in managing the stress and mental health of their workers effectively. The first is a lack of proper understanding of the subject, and mental health as a whole. This means they do not always feel confident enough to act appropriately and, therefore, shy away from the problem.

The second issue is simply a lack of willingness to engage and delve any deeper into it in order to solve the problem. As a result, the situation is blamed on either operational matters or poor individual performance.

But in reality, much can be achieved by approaching the subject head-on. Managers, in particular, are in a position to monitor their team’s workloads more closely, increase their efforts at communication and make small changes to their behaviour to make themselves appear more approachable rather than too busy to interrupt.

Sadly though, there is still a huge stigma around mental health issues, with many individuals feeling uncomfortable in talking openly to colleagues or superiors about the issues they face. Unfortunately, this situation simply compounds problems still further.

But one way of getting around this challenge is to provide managers with effective training. The aim is to equip them with the skills and confidence required to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health problems and effectively guide sufferers towards the right kind of support.

For instance, one of the first signs that someone may be suffering from mental illness is a change in their behaviour. If they always arrived on time, dressed smartly and were polite and deferential but suddenly come in late, look dishevelled and are irritable or tearful, it may be a sign that something is not right.

Ensuring that adequate help and support are provided at the earliest possible stage can have significant benefits for both the individual and the wider organisation. It is not about training managers to become therapists and psychiatrists but rather encouraging them to take their heads out of the sand and realise that workplace stress is a very real – and growing – problem, which is already having a major impact on business performance.

“Prolonged periods of stress can place huge strains on individuals, both from a physical perspective in the shape of migraines, high blood pressure and even heart disease, and from a mental health viewpoint.”

 

Kevin Rogers is chief executive of not-for-profit health cover provider, Paycare. A qualified accountant and associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, he has worked for more than 25 years in senior management roles at organisations in the manufacturing, automotive and construction sectors.

 

Leave a Reply

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing