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Who pays the cost of work related stress?

smileyIt is undeniable that there is a high physical and emotional toll paid by individuals suffering from excessive workplace stress. However, the costs of this stress are not paid by the individual alone. There is also significant spill over to family members, friends, colleagues, and employers as well. While organisations certainly have morale and legal obligations in terms of managing work related stress amongst their employees, they must not overlook the business case for doing this as well.

Workplace stress can lead to significantly reduced employee engagement and productivity, falling quality of work output, reduced customer service as well as increasing levels of absenteeism, staff turnover and workplace accidents. Furthermore, the insidious nature of stress can negatively impact on workforce morale – which can further exacerbate the problems described above. The bottom line is that excessive workplace stress can decimate… well… your bottom line!

The first stage of dealing with excessive work related stress is being aware if and when it exists. Managers must have a good understanding of each individual within their team in order to pick up any behavioural changes and mood swings that could indicate they are suffering excessive levels of stress. This will allow managers to put strategies in place to prevent employee burn-out and reduce the impacts described above. Managers may need training in how to both recognise and deal with stress to ensure that they are equipped to deal with the given situation.

Staff turnover levels tend to be very high within organisations that have endemic workplace stress issues. The negative impacts of this run deep – not only is a valuable resource just walking out your door, but you will now be saddled with increased and perhaps on-going costs of recruitment and training. Furthermore, your organisation is at risk of gaining a poor employment brand and reputation, meaning the best candidates, (often those with options), may decide to bypass any of your positions.

It is also important to note that businesses have a legal responsibility to effectively manage workplace stress. Stress is recognised within the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 and therefore businesses must take the actions necessary to protect employees, through adequate preventative measures as well and implementing solutions to the problem of excessive stress.

Due to the negative stigma attached to admitting that you are not coping at work, many employees will attempt hide their stress – perhaps until they reach full burnout. Therefore it is critical that every business develops a trusting and supportive workplace culture where people at all levels feel comfortable asking for help. Effective communication across the whole organisation is the critical enabler of this desired state.

Effective stress-busting behaviours must be modelled by management, setting good examples of how to deal with stress. Such behaviours could include working reasonable hours, taking breaks, not eating lunch at their workstation, exercising regularly and having a work-life balance with strong interests outside of work. Furthermore encouraging group based exercise challenges within a workplace will not only help reduce stress through increasing health and fitness, but can also have a positive impact on workplace morale. Some organisations offer Employment Assistance Programmes (EAP) to their staff, as part of a holistic wellness strategy, of which stress management would be one of the considerations.

Another way to reduce work related anxiety and stress is ensuring that your staff have adequate training in order to perform their role, as well as the necessary tools to perform it. It is also important that existing employees are given the opportunity to refresh their skills through appropriate training.

If you want your team to be engaged, meeting or exceeding their targets and working in a productive and effective manner then you must have a plan regarding the management of excessive workplace stress. However for any such plans to be effective they cannot be implemented using an ad-hoc band-aid approach. Effective stress management requires every employee within an organisation to buy into a corporate culture based on trust, support, and excellent communication.

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