Stress has become a not-so silent epidemic which is slowly draining businesses financially around the world. According to one study in America, stress affects around thirty million workers a year costing their employers $15,000 per year, per affected employee! In 2002 the European Survey of Working Conditions showed that the annual EU cost related to absenteeism due to work place stress was £20,000 million… [https://osha.europa.eu/en/tools-and publications/publications/reports/TE-81-08-478-EN-C_OSH_in_figures_stress_at_work]
In a study performed every five years by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, stress was documented as being second in line for the ‘crown’ of most common workplace threat; one place behind musculoskeletal conditions. Their 2010 survey showed that stress in the workplace affects 23% men and 20% of women in all areas aside from anxiety which was reflected as being more of an issue within the women’s category.
Stress itself became a standalone concept, defined as ‘a non-specific response of the organism to any pressure of demand’, in the 1930’s via Hans Selye. Psychology and other social and scientific sources took on this new concept and made it their own over the proceeding years and soon ‘stress’ become an ailment all of its own. Stress in the workplace is now recognised as being caused by a number of more specific issues than Selye’s ‘pressure or demand’. They include:
- Lack of control Lack of social support
- Ambiguity of the role Excessive demand
- Role and workplace conflict
- Lack of direction and development opportunities
- Job insecurity Psychological issues such as bullying and/or violence
- Personal issues (divorce, separation, children, parents, abuse etc)
In other words, as with any situation in life, if the requirement of a person goes above and far beyond their natural coping capability then a natural response is triggered and we now call this response stress. These responses can come about in any number of ways from psychological such as anger, anxiety, depression and lowered self esteem; physiological such as panic attacks due to a raised heart or breathing rate and behavioural such as inability to perform tasks, a dependency on substances such as alcohol and drugs and a rise in mistakes, accidents and absence.
It is clear that workplace stress is not a small subject which can be easily rectified with a weekly meeting! Each employee will be experiencing their own causes and build up of stress and their behaviour will, as a result, come out in totally unique and personal ways…so how can (and should) employers be helping their workers, and themselves, deal with this epidemic?
According to the government website, Health and Safety Executive [http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/furtheradvice/legalresponsibility.htm] it comes down to the responsibility of many, including the employees themselves. At board level, directors must monitor rates of absenteeisms and staff turn over, as well as any issues amongst staff members themselves and poor performance, all of which are direct factors pointing to stress related issues. They must have a clear and concise health and safety policy in place and as and when required, a strategy to deal with employee stress management.
Human Resources are in a position to assist their employers in dealing quickly and efficiently with stress related issues in the workplace in many ways including staying up to date on current workplace stress practices, sourcing evidence of specific employee issues, drawing up and providing stress related information to employees and and reporting concerns to directors and managers as and when necessary.
Line managers much be proactive in addressing stress related absenteeism and workplace issues by monitoring their staff, identifying when an employee is having issues and documenting the evidence before reporting their concerns to the appropriate personnel.
Employees themselves are in the best possible position to help themselves when it comes to workplace stress issues. By being open about any pressures they feel are putting them at risk of stress related ailments, discussing ways to assist in putting an end to the stress and taking active advantage of any stress related assistance their employers offer, employees can ensure that they are working in a happier and more relaxed environment each day.
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