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Linda Levesque


VP Corporate Benefits

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A ticking time bomb: the workplace stress epidemic


Learn more ways to improve your workplace wellbeing with The Ultimate Wellbeing Toolkit – a practical learning hub brought to you by financial protection specialists Unum, designed to equip HR professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to show employees that they are valued. 

Presenteeism – or attending work while sick – is on the rise.

A recent annual work absence survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that although there was a drop in the number of sick days taken by UK employees last year, far more people were continuing to come into work while sick.

Widespread job insecurity is a key factor contributing to the rise of presenteeism, as workers force themselves into the office despite being ill; fearing that taking time off will increase their chances of losing their jobs.

Furthermore, stress was the top reason for long-term sick leave for the second year running, with most businesses reporting a rise in staff stress-levels.

While there isn’t one key solution to stop people worrying about redundancy, more employers are recognising that a stress management strategy can have a positive impact on productivity and morale. So what should employers do to help de-stress staff? Here are a few tips on getting your business on the right road to managing work-related stress.

Help managers manage

As a starting point, it’s important for line managers to be given sufficient training to be able to recognise the symptoms of stress, so they feel well equipped to support staff when necessary. Effective communication channels between the workforce and managers go a long way to ensure people feel they have someone to talk to if their workload is spiralling out of control or they have other worries.

Many companies might also not realise the pressure of managing an employee with a health condition, and how feeling underprepared can actually contribute to further stress on the manager’s side. Ensuring that senior line managers feel supported themselves is an important step to consider when creating a stress management plan.   


The CIPD survey found that the top three causes of employee stress are increased workload, organisational change and management style – all of which can be far less disruptive to an employee if they know that they have the opportunity to voice their concerns and even make suggestions about how things could be managed differently.

Good communication should be at the heart of any business’s stress management strategy, as having an open dialogue between employers and employees builds a more productive and loyal workforce.

Opening lines of communication could be as simple as conducting a regular staff survey. Businesses could also consider setting up an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). These are schemes paid for by employers, and can offer support to help prevent stress, such as free counselling for staff on a number of issues from financial worries to substance abuse. Many Group Income Protection policies also provide an EAP at no extra charge, designed to support employees with a range of work/life issues.

In addition, where staff have been off on longer term sick leave with stress, it’s essential to organise proper return-to-work meetings where their concerns are properly listened to. This might mean changing their working conditions when they return, perhaps by offering flexible hours or decreased workload.

Address Wellbeing

One of the survey’s positive findings was an increase in wellbeing spend by many companies. Paying attention to staff wellbeing may seem an expensive luxury, but a healthy employee is less likely to need time off work, and knowing that workplace wellbeing is high on an employer’s agenda results in a more productive, loyal and committed workforce. In short, investing in wellbeing pays back through better productivity and retention, and lower sickness absence costs.

The ways you improve wellbeing also don’t have to cost the earth, and will depend largely on the type of work involved. If your workforce sit at computers, have they undergone health and safety checks to see if their desks and chairs are of good quality and not causing strain to eyes or backs?

Other things you could consider might include offering daily fresh fruit to staff, or hiring in-house exercise or health professionals, or even masseurs or chiropodists.

Better informed employees are happier employees, so think about holding drop-in sessions for staff so they can ask questions about things like their pension, how to read their payslip and what different employee benefits entitle them to.

One Response

  1. I know this is 2 months after
    I know this is 2 months after your great article Linda, but in today’s Times – 04/02/15 – there is an article which shows the shocking statistics for soaring levels of stress and suicide on workers in Japan who follow an excessive work culture.

    A new law will make companies ensure that their staff take at least five days off a year after a survey showed that most holidays were not taken.

    The average Japanese worker is entitled to 18.5 paid days off, but in 2013 took only nine. More than 16 per cent of employees took no holidays. Only South Koreans take fewer days off. In 2012, 338 Japanese workers died of brain or heart conditions caused by overwork, an increase for the second consecutive year. The number of workers who suffered from mental illness increased by 50 per cent to 475, and of these 93 people killed themselves or attempted to commit suicide.

    Employers and employees need to be aware of the risks stress carries, more now than ever.

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Linda Levesque

VP Corporate Benefits

Read more from Linda Levesque

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