Work-related stress is an issue that affects both employees and employers, and one that when addressed properly has benefits for everyone.
“50–60 percent of all lost working days can be attributed to work-related stress,” European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.
Causes of workplace stress can be attributed to the demands put on employees, and the environment they work in. This can result in reduced performance, accidents, absence and high staff turnover, as well as having a direct impact on those affected.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work lists the following negative effects on both workers and organisations:
For the individual worker:
- Burnout and depression
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Problems at home
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Poor physical health, especially cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal problems
At the organisation level:
- Poor overall business performance
- Increased absenteeism
- Presenteeism (workers turning up for work when they are sick and unable to function effectively)
- Increased accident and injury rates
What Are Healthy Workplaces?
One way to combat work-related stress is to introduce a commitment to ‘healthy workplaces’. This is about providing an environment where employers, managers, and staff all work together to address stress in the workplace, and find ways to reduce and minimise its impact.
While the demands put on staff such as excessive workloads need to be identified, evaluated and acted upon, removing these potential causes of stress completely is not always feasible. Some jobs are more stressful than others, and therefore ways need to be found to manage this stress and ensure workers are supported.
This is where incentive schemes and simple measures to enhance employees’ health and wellbeing can benefit both staff and their employers.
1. Get Mobile
A workplace that encourages movement and offers a variety of spaces for different work styles can tackle obesity, inactivity, and even stress by allowing workers to move around and choose a space that supports their needs. Ask yourself ‘is it vital in your workplace that staff are at their desks all day long?’ Simply by offering some flexibility in how employees work, can improve the overall health of your workplace.
2. Bikes For Staff
The Government’s Cycle to Work initiative allows employees to take advantage of tax free bikes through a monthly payroll scheme. Make it easy for staff to take advantage of this incentive and improve their fitness with a bike through this scheme; and providing a secure, and dry, place to leave them when at work.
Cycling to work increases your exposure to daylight, which is especially beneficial for those who work in artificially lit environments. This boosts levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin and improves sleep. Professor Jim Horne from Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre says, “Exercising outside exposes you to daylight and this helps get your circadian rhythm back in sync and rids your body of cortisol, the stress hormone that can prevent deep, regenerative sleep.”
3. Healthy Snacks
Vending machines traditionally sell fizzy drinks, crisps and sweet snacks, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Healthy alternatives can be provided alongside or in place of these so staff can make healthy choices about what they consume. You could go a step further by providing a complimentary fruit bowl in your workplace or by inviting a sandwich delivery company who supply healthy lunches to visit your office. If your workplace has a canteen, take a leaf out of Jamie Oliver’s school diners campaign and make sure there are plenty of healthy options here too.
4. Gym Membership and Exercise Classes
Many people would benefit from going to their local gym, but gym memberships can be expensive. Some employers hold weekly exercise classes in their workplace, others have on-premise gym facilities or run social sports teams such as football, netball and rounders.
For those organisations for which these ideas are not feasible, a salary sacrifice scheme where discounted gym membership is taken via monthly payroll reductions is a great option. This type of scheme also saves employees more money as they don’t have to pay National Insurance, or NHS Pension Contributions (if you are a member of the NHS Pension Scheme), on the value of the gym membership.
5. Promote Health and Wellbeing In Your Workplace
Healthy workplaces are also happy workplaces and a team ethos can really help to encourage everyone to support each other; whether this is improving their individual health or by making the work environment a less stressful place to be. Communication is important to ensure that everyone knows how to flag up any concerns, from identifying areas of risk to sharing worries about individual employees’ wellbeing. Your HR, IT, Sustainability, Marketing and Legal teams will all be able to contribute to your healthy workplace plans, and see real benefits from their function’s perspective; so get them on board early.