Time to tackle rising stress and sickness

Companies need to be aware of stress levels and the impact of employee wellbeing on productivity, says commercial director for Activ Absence Adrian Lewis.


18940552976_774127f437_kThe latest public health guidance from The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that promoting a culture that improves the health and wellbeing of employees is good management and leads to healthy and productive workplaces.

NICE has highlighted that workplace health is a significant public health issue. Each year more than a million working people in the UK experience a work-related illness. This leads to around 27 million lost working days, costing the economy an estimated £13.4 billion.

Failing to look after the health and wellbeing of employees can contribute to stress and incidences of stress-related absence have been rising for several years, impacting not just people’s health and wellbeing, but also business productivity and profits.

For the past two years, stress has been cited as the top reason for long-term sick leave according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with most businesses reporting a rise in staff stress levels.

According to HSE 11.3 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety in 2013/14, an average of 23 days per case. The Centre for Economics and Business Research has suggested the cost of work related stress to the economy is £6.5 bn.

Recent research by interim recruiter, Russam GMS found that eight out of ten senior executives say the workplace is a more stressful place than five years ago, with three quarters blaming mobile technology for creating a more stressful environment. The same research found that 60% said their employers expect them to answer emails outside of work hours and a fifth of respondents said that “switching off from work at home” is their biggest challenge in terms of looking after their health.

Another report from Deloitte showed that companies are struggling to reduce workplace stress, simplify business processes and reduce complexity. The report found that 66% of respondents believed their employees were “overwhelmed” by today’s work environment and 74% cited workplace complexity as a significant problem.

The reasons for poor workplace health are widespread and endemic in many organisations, and include long irregular hours, increased technology and the pressures of being ‘always on’ as well as a lack of control over work and discriminatory practices, but what can organisations do to tackle these issues?

According to NICE, to create a better work environment managers need to lead by example and challenge behaviour and actions that might have a negative impact on someone’s health and wellbeing. They need to receive training on how to improve their awareness of health issues.

They also need to adopt a positive style of management, praising people for their contributions, encouraging workers to be creative and explore new opportunities that may come their way.

We would also recommend they set guidelines and expectations around the use of mobile technology and email as this is increasingly a major cause of stress in the workplace today.

The NICE guidance also recommends that line managers should be flexible about work scheduling, giving employees greater control and flexibility over their own time.

However, to ensure that flexibility works for the employer and the employees, companies need to have the right systems and policies in place to manage it. Managers need to be able to see at a glance when people are working flexibly, where they are working and ensure employees have the right technology to perform their jobs as productively from home as in the office.

Much of the recent research has focused on work-related stress being a growing problem that companies need to find better ways of understanding and dealing with.

Many companies are in the dark about the extent of stress-related illnesses in their organisations. The first step towards gaining some insight into stress problems would be to track and record the incidences and reasons behind sickness absence – this can help managers and HRs spot key patterns and trends.

If an employee is calling in sick on Mondays or Fridays then perhaps they are overdoing it at weekends or if someone has several bouts of absence as a result of a recurrent illness, then perhaps there is a specific health problem they need to look at. With accurate information about employee absence managers and HR can more easily have conversations about someone’s health and wellbeing. Through these conversations they may be able to identify other key issues such as stress.

It’s been proven that a happy employee is a more productive employee and companies need to do all they can to look after the health and wellbeing of employees. With workplaces seemingly getting ever more stressful it’s important companies can manage and recognise the symptoms of stress, and have measures in place to deal it before it impacts their productivity and profits.


adrian lewis

Main image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/132832534@N03/

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