The shat­ter­ing ef­fect of stress in the work­place

The Herald Business - - Front Page -

STRESS costs us all – as in­di­vid­u­als, as busi­nesses and as a state. All the ev­i­dence shows that not only does stress take its emo­tional toll on the in­di­vid­ual, their col­leagues, friends and fam­ily but that, im­por­tantly, there is also a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic cost.

Es­ti­mates vary, but Health & Safety Ex­ec­u­tive (HSE) fig­ures from 2004 sug­gest that stress costs Bri­tish busi­ness at least £3.7 bil­lion a year in lost work­ing days. Then there is the cost to the state in terms of health­care and wel­fare pay­ments.

Stress is de­fined – by the HSE – as the ad­verse reaction that peo­ple have to ex­ces­sive pres­sure or other types of de­mand placed on them. It is usu­ally talked about un­der the head­ing of “men­tal health” or some­times “well­be­ing”.

It is not sur­pris­ing then, that or­gan­i­sa­tions are in­creas­ingly look­ing at the is­sue of work­place well­be­ing. The Char­tered In­sti­tute of Per­son­nel and De­vel­op­ment (CIPD) found that 55% of or­gan­i­sa­tions sur­veyed for last year’s Ab­sence Man­age­ment Sur­vey had some form of em­ployee well­be­ing strat­egy in place – up from 33% in 2009.

Look­ing at stress specif­i­cally, re­search pub­lished last month by Tow­ers Wat­son, the pro­fes­sional ser­vices com­pany, found that over 40% of em­ploy­ers al­ready had stress man­age­ment pro­grammes in place and an ad­di­tional 31% plan to in­tro­duce them in the next two years.

Re­bekah Haymes, se­nior con­sul­tant at Tow­ers Wat­son, ex­plains: “Our re­search fo­cuses on what em­ploy­ers are do­ing and we are see­ing well­be­ing be­com­ing a more busi­ness-led ini­tia­tive. We think that, among other things, ab­sence costs are be­ing ad­dressed more closely and em­ploy­ers are see­ing their stress-re­lated claims are in­creas­ing.”

She says that the cur­rent fo­cus for many em­ploy­ers is on help at the point of need with em­ployee as­sis­tance pro­grammes (EAPs) very pop­u­lar. “In fu­ture, em­ploy­ers do fore­see em­pha­sis­ing preven­tion, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to man­ag­ing stress lev­els. So we see a shift – not away from EAPs as there will al­ways be a role for an EAP – but a lot of em­ploy­ers are start­ing to think about what else they can do be­cause EAPs aren’t pre­vent­ing stress, they are just al­le­vi­at­ing it when it does hap­pen.”

Haymes points to three ar­eas of change. She sees more in­for­ma­tion and ed­u­ca­tion, both about well­be­ing in gen­eral and for man­agers on how to spot and deal with stress. There are also changes in ab­sence man­age­ment, with pre­vi­ously out-sourced ser­vices be­ing brought in-house and a growth in “re­silience train­ing”.

“We’re see­ing re­silience train­ing be­ing de­liv­ered at var­i­ous lev­els [not just for high-pro­file, high-pres­sure roles] to help em­ploy­ees cope with their roles. So it’s mak­ing sure you are putting peo­ple into the right roles and then giv­ing those em­ploy­ees the sup­port they need to de­liver those roles.”

An es­tab­lished av­enue to re­duc­ing stress is ex­er­cise. A study by health­care char­ity, Nuffield Health and the Lon­don School of Economics, sug­gests that over £7 bil­lion could be saved if each per­son in the UK took the govern­ment’s rec­om­mended amount of ex­er­cise (which is 150 min­utes a week). The £7 mil­lion is cal­cu­lated from the costs as­so­ci­ated with NHS treat­ments, wel­fare and loss of earn­ings.

“Health ben­e­fits for ac­tive peo­ple are price­less, but with in­creased pres­sures both in the work­place and at home, as well as the strug­gling econ­omy, we, as em­ploy­ers have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to help our work­force to be as re­silient, fit and well as pos­si­ble,” says Dr An­drew Jones, Nuffield’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate well­be­ing. “Our re­search shows the pos­i­tive im­pact of reg­u­lar phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity on many health mea­sures, but im­por­tantly on men­tal health,” he adds.

The ta­boo around stress in the work­place is some­thing else which also has to be over­come. “Very of­ten we see peo­ple who present with mus­cu­loskele­tal prob­lems, such as a bad back, and ac­tu­ally it is stress re­lated. Where you can go off with a cold or bad back, you can’t be off with stress,” says Sarah Marsh, a phys­io­ther­a­pist and head of fit­ness and well­be­ing at Nuffield.

She points to the pres­sure – in th­ese times of aus­ter­ity – on em­ploy­ees to be seen to be at work and the rise of what has been termed “pre­sen­teeism”. This cul­ture of go­ing to work when sick is high­lighted in the CIPD 2012 Ab­sence Man­age­ment Sur­vey which recorded that aver­age level of em­ployee ab­sence has fallen, but at the same time al­most a third of em­ploy­ers re­ported an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple go­ing into work ill.

Marsh says that look­ing at the whole pic­ture is im­por­tant. “We have phys­i­ol­o­gists who do health as­sess­ments for us and they are very good at talk­ing about chang­ing be­hav­iour; look­ing at diet and its im­pact on stress, sleep and its im­pact, and look­ing at stress re­sponses.” For cor­po­rate clients, Nuffield might be re­spon­si­ble for ar­rang­ing a range of ser­vices from med­i­cal care through tra­di­tional fit­ness fa­cil­i­ties to re­lax­ation-based ther­a­pies.

How­ever, there is still some way to go: while care path­ways for things such as RSI are well es­tab­lished, those for men­tal health are less com­pre­hen­sive. “Com­pa­nies say we know you are right, but we need you to prove it. It’s chicken and egg: cor­po­rate clients love to see a pilot and its data. We are look­ing at how we are able to come back to clients with some sort of re­turn on in­vest­ment to help per­suade them that they should look at men­tal health more closely.”

Sarah Marsh at Nuffield high­lights the pres­sure of ‘pre­sen­teeism’

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