Stress: Once upon a time an admission of stress would be seen as akin to an admission of failure; of not being able to cope with the ‘legitimate’ demands of the workplace. If you suffered from stress it was your fault and taking time off due to stress was tantamount to asking for a black mark on your employment record.  Moreover, with home and work being seen as two completely separate entities, any home problems were viewed as something you had to sideline whilst in the workplace.

Sadly there are some businesses in which those attitudes still prevail. However there is a growing recognition both of the interconnectedness of home and work and also of the responsibility which organisations have to their people in helping them to manage stress.

In order to provide targeted help we have to first understand the nature of stress and that’s not easy. In fact, according to the mental health organisation Mind [1], not only is there no medical definition of stress but health professionals often disagree on whether stress is the cause of problems or the result of them. Moreover, Mind acknowledges that being under pressure is a normal part of life; something which the website [2] echoes when it comments that in small doses stress can help us to perform under pressure and motivate us to do our best.

Nevertheless we all have a tipping point and when that is reached stress no longer plays a positive role in our lives. When we suffer from stress, according to the NHS website [3], our emotional, mental, and physical well-being can be affected with stress also impacting on our behaviour. So we might feel overwhelmed, have difficulty concentrating, suffer from headaches or dizziness, or start snapping at people. There is a fuller list on the NHS website but the overwhelming message is that when stress starts to bite we need to act.

Time for leaders to act

With that in mind what part can employers play in helping their people? Well, the first thing to recognise is that home and work are interconnected and that whatever the underlying cause, the most effective remedy could involve a multi-angle approach. So yes, if the cause of stress can be laid at the organisation’s door the first response has to be to review and reset working practices or systems. But a holistic response would also include creating the conditions which enable people to take time outside work in order to de-stress.

That may not be as easy as it seems. A survey by revealed that 48% of British workers are not taking any action outside work in order to relieve work stress. Of those, 65% blame a lack of free time whilst 25% cite a lack of funding as the prime reason for avoiding post-work stress relieving activities. Yet the remedy could be something as simple as offering flexitime in order to facilitate participation in sport or reviewing email and other policies to ensure that free time is truly free time.

Sadly the Obby survey indicates that at the moment just 19% of employers engaged in helping their people to undertake stress relieving activities. At a time when well-being is increasingly being recognised as a contributor towards strong employee engagement and business outcomes perhaps it’s time that we all looked again at how we can create the right conditions for our people; not just inside work but also in their home lives.