As someone who employs staff, and evaluates their work, I am sure I don’t need to tell you that stress in the workplace is a rising problem. Stress related absence costs UK business billions each year. As stress in society rises, this cost looks set to rise.
A person experiencing a short burst of stress is likely to be more creative, more focused, more effective. This kind of short burst stress, such as that created by a deadline or exciting project, is good for the mind and the health. The problem comes when the stress is ongoing. This is the sort of ‘bad stress’ that will take a toll on your staff member and your business. This is the type of stress that can become a costly problem.
How might bad stress be negatively impacting in your business?
Creativity and problem solving
People are at their most creative when their minds are relaxed. The stressed mind is in survival mode, not creative mode. If a person’s job requires them to use their creative instincts, for problem solving, content creation, customer service, negotiations etc, then stress will impact on their ability to do this well.
When a person is stressed, the mind will struggle to stay focused on the task in hand. This will affect their productivity, which is, in turn, likely to add to their stress and anxiety. In order to be able to work well, the human mind needs to be calm, well and happy. Long term stress truly is the enemy of productive, effective working. People might learn to adapt, but they will never be able to give their best work when stressed.
Very little harms a business as effectively as poor customer service. Without any malicious intent, a stressed, unhealthy and unhappy worker cannot provide such good customer service as one who feels supported, happy and valued in her role. Richard Branson is a passionate advocate of the benefits that happy staff bring to customers. His words are worth heeding…”If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple”
Stress affects our ability to think clearly and rationally. As stress puts the mind into survival mode, often a stressed person will act without fully thinking things through. They may also be distracted and unable to focus. This can lead to mistakes being made. This could increase the stress the employee feels and exacerbate an already challenging situation.
This is likely to be the most obvious sign that there is a problem. Stress-related absence is a growing problem for employers, with stress cited as the second cause of short-tern absence, and the number one for long term. A recent survey found that 42% of staff will pretend that their absence is due to a physical cause rather than admit to stress. This is due to the stigma of mental ill health, and fear of being seen as unable to cope with their work. In the same survey, it was found that 88% of workers with a mental health problem felt that work was the cause, or adding to, their ill health.
Add to that the fact that stress may actually present itself in physical illness, and your stress problem may be much worse than you think.
Presenteeism is when staff come into work despite being unwell. While they might be physically present, mentally they are not performing at their best, and may actually inadvertently be causing problems. The lost productivity caused by presenteeism has been estimated to cost approximately £4000 per employee in the UK.
Stress creates problems with relationships and reduces tolerance to frustration. A member of staff who is suffering from stress but coming into work might be unwittingly creating tension among their colleagues.
Increased recruitment and training costs
Every member of staff you recruit costs money. The average cost of replacing a member of staff is over £30k. Clearly, it makes more sense to invest in supporting existing staff members, who know the job, and, with support and care, can return to health and optimum performance. It is important that new staff are supported at all stages of the recruitment process to ensure that they don’t become overstressed in the early days (I left my last job after just 7 weeks, at great cost to my employer I am sure).
As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring that your employees are safe at work. Protecting them from undue stress is part of this responsibility. There are laws such as the Working Time Directive, that legislates for the number of hours a person can be expected to work in a day, and the Equality Act, which ensures that staff can’t be discriminated against for, for example, pre-existing mental health problems. There is a plethora of ‘no win, no fee’ solicitors out there waiting for a claim, as a Google search while writing this shows. It can be hard for an employee to win a case, but the mere fact that it has been taken could ripple throughout the rest of the company, leading to a problem with staff morale.
One stressed-out employee can affect all others around him. Stress affects the emotions and performance ability. All of which could have an impact on the employee’s colleagues. Stressed staff might spend a lot of time complaining about their lot, causing bad feeling and maybe even causing others to look at their own situation and see problems. I have done this myself, and have experienced the negativity caused by an unhappy colleague. This isn’t done in spite, the stressed person is seeking support and validation for how they feel, so they do this by sharing with trusted colleagues. Additionally, the impact of both absenteeism and presenteeism might be impacting on the workload of others, adding to the stress felt throughout the team.
In addition to the cost of recruitment, if your organisation develops a reputation for high stress, and high staff turnover as a result, it could impact on your ability to attract good staff. Initiatives such as the MIND Workplace Wellbeing Index allow organisations to show that they are set up to support staff through mental health problems such as stress, and this makes them attractive employers to work for, allowing them to attract the best candidates for roles.
How is stress affecting your business?
Stress is inevitable in work. A certain level of stress is necessary for us to function; we need that ‘good stress’ to motivate us to action. But if the stress your staff are facing is overwhelming and making them ill, it is affecting them, their loved ones, their colleagues, clients and your business as a whole. It doesn’t need to. There are many things you can do to help them. A workplace wellness program from Balance and Breathe can provide vital stress management tools to help them manage their emotions, relax and release stress, and develop the resilience they need to manage challenges that might arise. Find out more here, and get in touch for your complimentary consultation.