More than half of UK staff would like their employer to provide a confidential counselling service to help them cope with recession-related stress.
Moreover, according to a survey among 1,440 people undertaken by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), a huge 78% now also believe that workplace stress is an acceptable reason to seek counselling compared with a mere 44% six years ago. Some 84% also felt that the recession had made it more likely that people would seek such help.
Rick Hughes, BACP’s workplace lead advisor, said that the stigma attached to counselling in relation to personal or work-related issues such as financial loss, stress and relationship breakdowns had now been replaced with an active demand for such support.
“Organisations that provide counselling services for staff overwhelmingly find this translates to a multitude of positive benefits, including reduced absence, lower presenteeism, enhanced employee satisfaction, reduced accidents and improved productivity,” he added.
Aside from the organisational cost benefits gained from providing such help, it also demonstrated that employers were taking moral and social responsibility for their staff and helped to promote greater buy-in and commitment.
“The economic downturn is likely to increase presenteeism, which is already costing organisations twice as much as absence,” Hughes said. “The inclination to work more for less will invariably impact negatively on the emotional and psychological health of employees. Providing counselling services for staff will go some way to mitigate these adverse effects.”
About 29% of workers said they would like their employer to provide them with more emotional support to help them cope with workplace stress, whether that was caused by work, personal problems or a combination of both.
Workplace psychologists OPP agreed that in the current difficult economic climate, businesses needed to manage morale effectively or risk seeing workers’ productivity drop. If they failed to do so, employees were also more likely to look for another job when the economy improved.
Catherine Ellwood, a consultant at the firm, said: “If morale is low in a business, employees are more likely to arrive in the morning simply to do the day job. Often the real value of a workforce can be the things they are prepared to do above and beyond the day job, and businesses should do more to ensure that they do not lose this.”
As a result, she recommended that managers focus on the individual and ensure that each staff member could see a future career path for themselves. Although ideally training and development budgets should be maintained even in tough times, if this was impossible, staff development could be provided in the form of mentoring or coaching.
Another important consideration was to engage staff in decision-making processes via mechanisms such as brainstorming, suggestion boxes or company updates and briefings. Once a decision had been made, it was also helpful to delegate execution “broadly throughout the team” if possible to ensure that people felt involved.
Such an approach was important as, particularly during difficult times, employees often felt that decisions about their future were being made elsewhere and simply handed down to them.
A third suggestion was to focus on team-building, especially in those businesses that had made redundancies.
“It’s a mistake to believe that, after some people leave a business, a team can simply work harder or more efficiently to deliver the same results. Team development activities can provide a major boost to engagement and help remaining team members refocus and renew team goals together,” Ellwood said.