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Stress management: The facts


The impact of stressed employees upon motivation, productivity and cost makes it an issue that employers must address with urgency. In a new column for HR Zone Annie Lawler, director of Breathing Space for Business and member of HR Zone, explains the issues underlying stress and how to manage it.

Welcome to this, the first in a series of articles on stress in the workplace and how to manage it effectively. So why is stress such an issue these days?

Well, to give you some facts and figures, somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of visits to our GPs these days are stress related. Companies have a legal responsibility to look after the welfare of their employees. HSE set out guidelines a couple of years ago that are being used as best practice in tribunals relating to stress.

This means that companies now have to show that they have a published and understood stress or wellbeing policy and they have to be seen to be offering help with preventing and alleviating undue stress.

Note the term 'undue' here. It's important that the difference is understood between pressure, which we need in order to get up in the morning and do what we need to do, and 'undue' stress. Put simply, undue stress is the point where we are unable to switch off the body's 'fight or flight' response which is a somewhat primitive mechanism we have for dealing with stress. It was intended to help us hunt for our dinner or to escape from life threatening situations, but the same mechanisms are in play in anxiety and stress-related situations. Basically, our current physical and mental make-up was not really designed for the demands of the 21st century, in which many of us give our own wellbeing a low priority and our lifestyles are sedentary.

It's also worth bearing in mind that what is stressful to you and me may be water off a duck's back for someone else. So, in management, it's important to recognise this and to understand that stress is very individual in its interpretation and its effects.

Where we do not differ is that if we are suffering unrelenting stress over a prolonged period of time and we don't know how to deal with it, we're in for a pile of trouble. Many company cultures tend to generate feelings of weakness if one has to ask for help in dealing with stress (or pretty well anything for that matter!). We're all expected to be one-person dynamos 24 hours a day, seven days a week and that is simply unrealistic.

What intrigues me more than anything is the lack of understanding by many business leaders about managing human beings. Of course your company needs to make profits and you need to run your businesses as economically as possible, but there is a phenomenon known as false economy. I believe the western world has been suffering from the results of this for a number of years now.

Some companies have already worked this out, but there are many more who still haven't understood what, to me, is a real 'no-brainer'. If you treat human beings like human beings, i.e. with respect for their ideas and input and make them feel valued, you get more out of them than people who are feeling demotivated, put upon and without control of their lives.

Undue stress has become a massive problem for UK business and recent figures estimate workplace stress costing UK business an estimated £3.7bn a year. According to a survey by Ceridian, a quarter of sick days can be attributed to work-related stress and that an average of 8.5 days per employee per year are taken off due to stress.

Failure to deal with the issue of stress related sickness can result in:

  • Increased absences


  • Additional pressure on the rest of the team who come into work


  • Demotivation and underperformance of staff


  • Poor staff retention


  • Exposure to expensive and time-consuming litigation

That's the bad news. The good news is that something can be done about it.

The causes of stress are numerous and over the coming months, I intend to cover a variety of techniques and issues for discussion, which I hope will give some valuable information and insights to HR Zone readers. Since leaving the advertising industry, stress relief and wellbeing has become, not only my job but my passion and I look forward to sharing this information with you.

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Breathing Space for Business helps businesses reduce absenteeism, improve staff retention and performance and helps protect them against litigation stemming from stress-related issues. If you have a comment or feedback on this article or want more information, please contact Annie Lawler on 0772 581 8884 or by e-mail on [email protected] ,

2 Responses

  1. emmmm
    I would be extremly interested to understand where the statistic “80-90% of visits to Doctors are stress related” come from.

    I think this is wildly exagerated at best. Not that I am frequent visitor to my GP’s (except when taking the children) but on the evidence of my local waiting room it doesnt appear to be fill of stress related cases…colds, flu, post operation follow ups etc etc. but stress?

    In addition “a quarter of sick days are related to stress…thats 8.5 days per employee”. Surely this is a mistake….since when has the avearge sickness total for employees been 34 day per year!!!!

    So where is the evidence for any of this(happy to eat humble pie if there is some) or is this more peddling of a particular line?


  2. Stress Management
    This initial offering looks good to me. I have a question for the author…………Does she intend covering the contribution to dubious work related stress claims that can be directly attributed to the medics?

    In New Zealand we have almost a conspiracy [it seems] amoung our medical profession to give time off work as the first option when someone calls. I encourage employers for whom I act, to challenge many medical certificates, especially those that are printed and state….”Based on the information supplied to me, I determine Don Rhodes should have 3 days off work due to stress.”

    First, that tells me there was no visit to the doctor, only a telephone call. Second, it tells me the doctor is in 99% of cases relying totally on what they are told, without questioning the work situation at all. It just seems all too easy, especially when the certificate relates to a supposed work related accident, let alone stress. I could go on forever, but must finish by acknowledging also the many fine things we rely on our medical folk to deliver. I would just like them to consider a bit more often, the “other side of the story”.



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