It’s been a difficult year and added pressures within the workplace means it’s unsurprisingly a breeding ground for stress. The link between a healthy workforce and a healthy bottom line is incredibly strong, and stress is so prevalent in the workplace it now accounts for the most days lost due to work-related ill health. This is not only bad for people’s health and wellbeing, it is bad for business as it costs employers nearly £26 billion each year in sickness absence, reduced productivity and employee turnover. The theme of this year’s National Stress Awareness Day which falls on Wednesday this week, is ‘Defining outcomes for wellbeing at work’. This is a great opportunity for employers to recognise and review the wellbeing of their staff, either by facilitating stress-busting activities or by seeking further information on how to implement a longer-term wellbeing plan.
Recent research by PruHealth shows that at least one in four British workers is displaying symptoms of stress, depression or anxiety. Stress levels have increased for almost half (45%) of British adults interviewed in the last 12 months and they don’t believe stress levels are likely to get any better in the future (49%). Worryingly in some cases, stress at work is leading to physical violence and creating a growing trend of desk rage, as lack of support from bosses and fears over job security and pay take their toll. Over a third (36%) of British workers have witnessed colleagues shouting at each other, almost one in three (31%) have seen staff break down and cry and one in thirteen (7%) has witnessed a physical assault in the workplace. One in five (19%) have witnessed colleagues being rude to clients and customers (clearly not good for business), and more than one in four (26%) take out their stress on office equipment. Overall, 37% of workers believe that incidents of ‘desk rage’ have got worse since the start of the recession.
The first step to dealing with stress and mental illness is recognising it exists and how common it is. Sadly, mental health remains a taboo subject and this is the biggest barrier. Early intervention and putting the right coping mechanisms in place are very important to nip symptoms in the bud, before more radical treatment is required, which is why awareness amongst individuals and employers alike is critical.
Employers can introduce health risk assessment tools such as an online stress audit to educate staff on their own health status and identify health risks early on and receive advice. There are other measures that can be taken as well, that can all work to help alleviate stress. Eating well is important. People who feel unhealthy are less able to cope with stress and some foods and drinks such as those with a high caffeine content, can increase stress. Introduce healthy eating advice, highlighting the importance of following a healthy diet. Ensure health foods and alternatives are offered at any onsite food vendors such as vending machines, canteens or snack shops or offer healthy Meal Deals and healthy breakfast days or provide free fruit.
Exercise can improve mental health, self-esteem and self-image. It helps improve mood and sleep. Encourage exercise at work through the provision of an onsite gym and exercise facilities, partially or fully subsidised offsite gym membership, cycle to work schemes, internal sports clubs or physical activity programmes such as running or walking clubs. It is important that employees take their lunch breaks away from their desks. They should get out of the office for some fresh air and relieve the tension that builds up from sitting all day hunched over their keyboard. Muscles carry tension and by releasing it, staff can feel better physically, mentally and emotionally – taking a walk at lunchtime can help with this.
Help staff beat addictive behaviours by introducing alcohol and substance abuse intervention programmes, smoking cessation programmes or weight management classes.
Time management is also crucial. Help staff manage their time effectively to reduce stress at home and in the workplace which frees up more time to relax.
Implement training among staff so line managers are trained not only on how to identify the signs of stress in employees, but also on how to approach employees who are suffering from stress. Equally, ensure that staff know who to approach if they are under pressure or having problems. Regular one-to-one meetings with line managers can help them raise issues and request help in managing workloads and enables them to talk things through to help put them into perspective.
Finally, help staff take action.
At PruHealth we know that the majority of people with low mood and stress don’t seek help from health practitioners, which is why we have developed a Vitality mental wellbeing suite of tools for our members. The results of four online assessments are combined to give a complete overview of each individual’s emotional health and mental wellbeing. Free access support is then provided through the ‘Living Life’ online life skills course developed by Dr Chris Williams, Professor of Psychiatry and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at the University of Glasgow. This uses the clinically proven cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approach and allows people to dip into and address topics they want to work on, such as how to boost motivation and fix problems or how to tackle irritability and destructive negative thinking. By using the CBT approach we have developed some practical things to do that can make a real difference.