Since 1992, April has been marked as ‘Stress Awareness Month’. For the 30 days throughout April, a task force comprised of health care experts and health and wellness promotion experts come together to raise public awareness with regards to the causes and cures of the stress epidemic that we accept as part and parcel of modern-day life.
Such a prevalent problem is stress, that according to research, more than 11 million working days are lost each year.
It’s a well-known fact that stress affects the lives of individuals, along with their families and colleagues through the impact the condition has on their overall health. However, what is often widely overlooked is its repercussions on employers, as the costs relating to absence, replacement staff, decreased output and productivity and increased number of accidents and mistakes.
In total, workplace absence costs the UK economy over £5 billion each year.
Employers have a legal obligation to protect their employees from workplace related stress, investigating causes and creating solutions.
The triggers for stress can vary between individuals, but industry figures speculate that around three to five employees in the UK consider their workloads to be excessive and consistently find it a struggle to meet deadlines.
It’s natural that employees bring any stress they are experiencing in their personal lives into the workplace. While employers are not legally responsible for stress that originates outside of work, a well-managed, employee-centric organisation, will have arrangements within the business that allow them to address it.
These arrangements often include changes to working hours, the office environments, adapting the work or workload itself, or access to counselling services. Some businesses are even allowing employees career breaks, that enable them to recalibrate, and have the space and freedom of mind to address the areas of life that are infringing on their mental health.
How can businesses address the topic of workplace stress, and implement the necessary measure to prevent and manage it? There are some simple steps that can be taken to effectively reduce the stress that employees experience and create a more balanced and calmer working environment.
Mindfulness in the workplace
The concept of mindfulness has experienced a resurgence in recent years; the era we reside in means we are ‘always on’ and bombarded with various means of communication and messages – meaning that our minds are constantly stimulated and distracted, leaving little room to clear our heads and live in the present. Being mindful allows us to be more focused and productive.
By offering employees mindful lessons to teach them how to practice it, and how by raising their level of consciousness in the workplace and being present in the way they listen, it could improve their working lives.
To support them in this behavioural and cultural change, employers must allow for breathing space and be considered in every action they take, rather than rushing through workloads, and treating it as a tick box exercise.
Healthy Employees, Healthy Business
The lifestyle of an office worker has a legacy of being unhealthy. As we know, unhealthy employees, whether that’s physically or mentally, can negatively impact a business, and the food we consume and level of activity can impact both of these conditions, creating a vicious cycle that can end in employee absence.
Create a healthy working environment by having regular deliveries of fresh fruit, workplace health offerings and initiatives like supplemented yoga, cycle to work schemes or lunch time activities. As well as improving the health of employees, it’s a great opportunity for colleagues to bond with each other, improving general morale.
Presenteeism is known as the practice of being present in the workplace when it’s not required, for example, working for more hours than required, or showing up to work when you are unwell. Presenteeism is often an indicator of job insecurity, an unmanageable workload or an employee potentially suffering from stress.
With HR trends leaning towards the health and wellness of employees, thankfully presenteeism is becoming less prevalent. It requires a top down approach to prevent this culture from occurring. Taking this line, coupled with flexible working arrangements and remote working being widely introduced, businesses are seeing employee sickness reduce while productivity increases.
Many senior leadership teams have found that asking for the input of their employees when investigating the methods that would be most effective in reducing stress, particularly useful.
Taking a collaborative approach can prove to be an effective intermediary. By inviting employees to voice the issues they encounter and express their suggestions when it comes to stress relieving initiatives often brings actionable ideas and improved employee morale as staff know that their opinions are welcomed in the business.
Employee wellness policy
Implementing your own company policy and guidelines which demonstrate a commitment to protect the health, safety and welfare of staff – as well as recognising that workplace stress is a health and safety issue – is a great move, and the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) has some useful advice on its website about how to do this.
It’s the candidates that are driving the recruitment market, especially in industries in which there is a skills shortage. Businesses that are seen to be implementing health and wellbeing initiatives and policies with a view to supporting their staff and reducing stress levels, are likely to build up a pipeline of high-calibre candidates and experience improved rates of staff retention, while effectively decreasing sickness-related absence.
Simply offering the highest salary may no longer be enough, it’s time to demonstrate a duty of care to the health and wellbeing of your workforce.