A growing body of research suggests that a little bit of stress – like a little bit of chocolate – is actually good for you. But what about when workplace stress becomes a permanent fixture?
Some roles are more stressful than others: it’s likely that there have been far more bouts of workplace stress in the lives of investment bankers than librarians, for example.
And while some studies have shown that stress can be a force for good – boosting productivity and team cohesion – a new study by UK based research and analysis firm CV Library highlights the extent to which stress impacts workers’ day-to-day lives. The results are a reflection of how little control they feel they have over managing it.
The survey, which asked 1,200 UK employees to reflect on their experiences of workplace stress, found that more than half (57 per cent) believe that their manager does not offer support to help them manage it.
As for the reasons, 29 per cent of respondents felt that long working hours was the main cause of their workplace stress; two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents cited poor management; and 34 per cent believe heavy workloads are the key cause.
It’s clear from these figures that the factors that cause workplace stress – from deadlines, pressure from above to perform or reach budgets, and management that’s either lacking or under-trained – are also within an organisation’s power to change for the better. HR is in the best position to make it happen.
Why should HR prioritise stress management in the workplace?
According to a report released by Safe Work Australia, Australian workplaces are currently losing more than $10 billion a year to mental stress costs, a figure that should be more than enough to convince executives to prioritise the management of workplace stress.
Lee Biggins, founder and manager of analysis and research firm CV Library, agrees, arguing that we should be shifting the onus back onto businesses to manage stress in the workplace. It’s an initiative that should be embarked upon not just as a measure to improve employee health and mental wellbeing, but to boost retention and the bottom line.
“For employers, high stress levels not only impact overall productivity, but can also place organisations in a compromising position,” he explains. “Workers under a great amount of strain are more likely to turn on their heels and look for a better working environment elsewhere.
“This makes it more important than ever for management teams to take on the responsibility for keeping their staff happy and productive in the workplace, and help to alleviate some of the pressures that their employees are facing.”
Businesses are listening
Another study published at the website Employee Benefits shows signs that, increasingly, management is recognising the responsibility they have to influence employee health, help change their staff’s behaviours for the better, and generally assume responsibility for the consequences of workplace stress.
It surveyed 500 HR directors and risk managers across 22 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa to find that 63 per cent of employers say that managing employee stress and mental health is a top priority.
Recognising the responsibility of employers to manage their workplace stress levels, is, of course, just the first step. Whether it’s training for managers, programs for employees, and a culture that recognises mental wellbeing, the next is finding practical ways to ensure that ominous stress clouds are a rare sight – not a constant presence.