Two thirds of all workers are suffering from high levels of stress and are having to take time off work as a result.
These are the key findings of a survey among employees at 1,500 companies worldwide undertaken by employee assistance programme provider, ComPsych
, to coincide with National Stress Awareness Day
The poll revealed that the main causes of stress were workload (40%), people issues (33%) and juggling work and personal life (18%). But the situation resulted in just under half of all respondents (45%) losing between 15 and 30 minutes of productive working time per day, while 34% lost an hour or more.
To make matters worse, a huge 52% missed between one and two day’s work each year because of stress, three out of ten missed between three and six days and 18% missed more than six days.
Richard A Chaifetz, ComPsych’s chairman and chief executive, said: “As the economy continues to suffer, organisations are still doing more with less and that can take a toll on workers. Many employees have reached a point of unprecedented burnout.”
A second study conducted among 500 employers by Lightspeed Research
on behalf of Group Risk Development
, a trade body for the corporate insurance industry, likewise revealed that stress-related mental ill health was now the second highest cause of long-term absence (15%), beaten only by home and family issues (20%).
A worrying 19% of respondents also indicated that stress and/or mental health issues amounted to the biggest single health-related challenge facing the business, with the figure rising to 27% for organisations employing more than 100 personnel.
A third study undertaken by the International Conflict Management Forum
among 263 public and private sector organisations, meanwhile, indicated that effective communication was almost universally considered (87%) to be the most relevant factor in influencing levels of employee stress – although smaller organisations in particular believed that the impact of culture and whether top managers led by example or not also had an important role to play (52%).
Effective communication was defined by some respondents as proactively taking into consideration the potential impact of management decisions during the decision-making process and ensuring that messages were presented unambiguously and sensitively.
But bullying was likewise deemed to be an important influencer on staff stress levels, at least by large organisations, although many admitted that they were not taking sufficient action to deal with such issues.
A small minority of employers were trying to take a more imaginative approach to dealing with mounting stress, however. They did this by exploring non-conventional practices such as offering guided meditation and relaxation treatments, usually as part of a wider strategy, and reported that the return on investment from such activity was positive.
But John Telfer, managing director of Inspiring Business Performance
, an Investors in People centre for London and the south east and west of England, also recommended four other potential actions that HR directors could take to try and help minimise stress among the workforce:
- Adopt flexible working practices – think about altering working hours, enabling remote working or even just permitting employees to attend important family events if they need to
- Be honest if the organisation is going through a tough time – if staff know what is happening, they are more likely to pull together and may even have innovative ideas that could help to improve the situation
- If providing salary increases proves difficult, offer other inexpensive incentives such as in-house training
- Promote a ‘fun’ culture as laughter can serve to boost morale.
“Some of the healthiest organisations we work with have not spent thousands of pounds on expensive schemes. They have simply concentrated on the fundamentals of good communication, effective and fair line management and providing support to enable their staff to do the best job possible,” Telfer said.