A study of 1,388 workers commissioned by Willis PMI Group, part of Willis Towers Watson, found that stress and mental ill health are both among the top four causes of long-term absence for manual and non-manual workers, and a recent study by the British Heart Foundation found that two in every five employees say that stress at work has affected their health.
This is worrying news, but as an employer, or HR professional - why does this matter?
Well, from a risk and legal perspective, there is potential for a rise in Employers’ Liability claims related to stress and mental health. You may leave yourself badly exposed if you don’t know about stress and under UK law, employers have a duty of care to protect the health, safety and welfare of all employees while at work - which includes work-related stress. Damages may be recoverable for emotional distress that is caused intentionally or negligently. In one case an employee who had returned to work recovering from symptoms of anxiety and depression was expected to do what was found to be an excessive workload coupled with unacceptable stress levels. He successfully won a case against his employer.
According to the HSE, there are key factors that determine an employee’s level of stress. These are:
• The demands of the job
• Control over work
• The support received from managers and colleagues
• Relationships at work
• Role in the organisation
• Change and how it’s managed.
Your perception of an ‘easy’ change at work, a ‘hands off’ manager or an ‘exhilarating job’ could be causing unnecessary stress. How can you change?
Stress Cause #1 – Increased Demands
Everyone feels pressure; bur when we experience too much pressure without the opportunity to recover, stress can rise up. This is technically defined as ‘the adverse reaction a person has to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them’.
After ascertaining that the employee is capable of doing the role, sometimes stress management can be down to your culture.
As a leader or a senior member of the business you are responsible for establishing the culture of your workplace. Check in and see if long hours and little work/life balance, no breaks and a pace bordering on hysteria are all ‘part of the job’ at your business. Whilst you might not mind the conditions, the very nature of your seniority affords you more freedom, choice and control. If you need to take a longer break, if you disagree with a decision, even if you need flexibility in your working hours for a period– chances are these are things you can control, which means there can be more 'give and take' on your stress levels. Junior employees may not thrive in the same conditions you do. Start promoting a better work/life balance by working reasonable hours, taking breaks, and having a life outside of the office, or encouraging your team to do so.
Stress Cause #2 – Lack of Control
You may have forgotten the stress that resulted from needing a decision, but having everyone you reported to away from their desks for the day. Everybody wants to control their day and their workload and we favour routine because it makes us feel comfortable. What changes can you make to give people fair warning of new projects? Can you schedule in meetings instead of calling impromptu chats? Can you map out monthly objectives, whilst openly asking (and accepting) feedback if the aims are unachievable? Passing on responsibility where possible not only reduces stress, but enriches the day of an employee, allowing them to take ownership of their destiny.
Stress Cause # 3 – No Support
Do you have a listening culture? Many employees scoff when a senior manager talks of their ‘open door’ policy – for many it takes reaching certain breaking point before they take the long walk upstairs and actually express their concerns . How can you reduce stress by using different methods of communication? A post box for staff concerns allows anonymous, candid feedback. Questions might be as big as ‘are our jobs at risk?’ or as small as ‘will we get to leave on Christmas Eve early?’ should all be fair game.
Stress Cause #4 - Poor Internal Relationships
From relationships with direct reports to wider business relationships, how can you improve engagement? Rewards and recognition should be a huge part of any business, and ideally you should be carving out a culture where thanks are given not only from the top down, but from colleague to colleague. For example a gift card platform that allows anyone in the business to gift another employee to say ‘thanks’ ‘sorry’ or just ‘because’ can have an incredible effect on self-esteem and create lasting relationships.
Stress Cause #5 - Change
Change management is an industry in itself, and any change needs to be handled delicately. A simple shift – such as moving premises, taking out a layer of middle management, or changing IT systems might seem like a great idea to enhance productivity or save cash, however, even small changes can have a knock on effect elsewhere. People crave security and consistency and often the rumour mill of one small change can create a snowball effect of stress, sometimes to the point where employees are resigning. Encourage an open discussion and try to give plenty of notice when it comes to change.
Overall, a culture where employees feel that what they are doing matters, where they are supported and work as part of a team should all help to reduce stress. Because we are gift card specialists, we work with many B2B businesses who have introduced gift cards as a way to say thankyou, to engage with staff or celebrate service or commitment. You might wonder oif gift cards are enough - and whilst gift cards are not the whole picture in the battle against stress, they can significantly impact the levels of employee motivation, they can open up communication between staff and from the top down, and they can easily slot into your budget so it's a small, welcome change.
SVM Global offer gift cards for B2B for over 130 retail brands. You can call direct and get gift cards and eCodes sent immediately, direct to the recipient, or to your office. We can also look at large volume gift card discounts. If you’re interested in a way to encourage communication of thanks in your workplace, speak to us about our reward and recognition platform.
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