How Workplace Stress Could be Hurting Your People and Your Business
Everyone experiences feelings of stress at some point in their lives and, although unpleasant, there’s actually a very good reason our bodies trigger this reaction to certain situations.
Stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response that helps us to react quickly. Ever had to deliver a presentation to the board or talk in front of a room full of people? It’s likely you felt stressed, and that stress supported you in getting through it. Once you were finished, your stress levels probably returned to normal pretty quickly.
However, prolonged stress can leave us in a state of permanent fight or flight, leading to us feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.
A recent report published by the HSE showed that workplace stress is on the rise, particularly in the wake of Covid-19, and there’s a good chance it’s hurting your people and your business.
How does stress affect an employee?
There are a number of ways stress can negatively affect an employee.
Strained working relationships
Stress has a number of effects on our mental wellbeing that can put pressure on our working relationships.
An employee feeling stress at work is going to be much more sensitive to criticism and feedback, even when it’s constructive, while they might also develop feelings of jealousy and resentment towards colleagues who appear to have everything under control.
However, employee relationships, specifically peer support, can also help deal with stress.
It’s arguably productivity that suffers the most when an employee is feeling stressed.
While stress hormones provide an initial burst of energy to deal with the situation, they rapidly drain energy if the situation is prolonged. This leads to a lack of physical and mental energy, which inevitably affects performance.
Stress also leads to a lack of focus. It’s hard to concentrate on the task at hand when your mind is occupied by whatever’s causing your stress.
Creativity is harmed too, and being able to solve challenges quickly is often key to being productive.
Stress, depression and anxiety is one of the biggest drivers of absenteeism in the UK. In 2019/20, 17.9 million working days were lost due to mental health issues, with sufferers on average taking 21.6 days off per year as a result.
Faced with the challenges posed by high staff absenteeism, organisations should consider investing in programmes specifically designed to tackle mental health in the workplace.
Reduced employee engagement
Employee engagement—the relationship between an organisation and its employees—is dependent on a happy, healthy workforce. As such, this is one of the key areas that suffers as a result of workplace stress.
Employees experiencing stress are therefore less committed to the organisation’s overall objectives, more likely to look for a new job and won’t perform at their best. A Sage whitepaper revealed that the UK economy loses £52-70 billion in productivity each year due to employee disengagement.
One way of tackling low employee engagement is rewarding a job well done, with one survey finding that personal recognition was the best way a manager or company could encourage the production of great work.
What effect does this have on your business?
It’s not just your employees that’ll be feeling the effects of workplace stress—your business will be too.
You’re going to be less profitable
Employee productivity is directly linked to your business’ profitability. Simply put, if output is slowed due to workplace stress, you’re going to be making less money.
This might be due to absenteeism as a result of mental health issues, or presenteeism.
There are two main definitions of presenteeism:
- An employee coming into work even when they’re unwell, ultimately working inefficiently and potentially making colleagues unwell; and
- Putting in long hours but not actually working effectively.
The second definition is most relevant in this case, and it’s a common function of workplace stress. While working longer hours to complete a project that’s causing the person stress might be effective on occasion, if this is a common occurrence it’s going to lead to burnout.
Increased staff turnover
Studies have shown that when employees suffer from chronic occupational stress they’re more likely to change jobs.
For your organisation, this means increased recruitment and training costs, as well as the chance you’ll lose your best people to companies that prioritise employee wellbeing.
It’ll be harder to attract the best talent
According to one study, 91% of employees would recommend an organisation to a friend if their mental health was supported.
However, this cuts both ways, and if your company doesn’t do enough to counter workplace stress your reputation among job hunters is going to suffer.
More than two thirds (70%) of candidates now consult company review sites like Glassdoor, WorkAdvisor or The Job Crowd before making a career decision, reading six reviews on average before forming an opinion.
How can businesses support their employees?
Workplace stress has been described as a ‘silent killer’ of employee health and productivity, and it’s unlikely your organisation is completely immune from it.
Fortunately, there are a number of solutions, practices and policies you can put in place to support employee wellbeing.
Create a supportive culture
Stress is most damaging when employees don’t feel like they have a place to turn. By cultivating a supportive culture that prioritises employee wellbeing you’ll give your people confidence that their issues will be listened to and taken seriously.
Ensure managers are bringing up the question of mental wellbeing regularly during 1-to-1s and catch ups, while you should also conduct a stress risk assessment.
An Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) is also an effective solution for supporting mental wellbeing at work. Our EAP product will connect your employees with fully accredited counsellors and clearly demonstrate that you care about their mental health.
Available over the phone or for face-to-face sessions, all our counsellors are members of, and accredited to, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
Implement policies that facilitate work-life balance
Employees value work-life balance like never before.
Of the organisations surveyed as part of Aon’s Benefits and Trends Survey 2022 report, 93% reported that ‘more flexible working hours’ and ‘Agile/home working’ were the top two most desired employee benefits. A report published by BDO UK also found that flexible working was associated with higher job satisfaction, employee retention and wellbeing.
You should also look to develop guidelines that encourage people to stick to working hours and switch off work devices when they’re off the clock.
Support financial wellbeing
One of the biggest drivers of stress in the UK is money worries, but all too often organisations think their financial wellbeing strategy should begin and end with a competitive salary.
Supporting employee financial wellbeing can take many different forms, including a rewards and recognition platform that offers monetary rewards for a job well done, but one of the most effective ways of doing so is helping their salary go further.
Salary sacrifice schemes offer your workforce the opportunity to spread the cost of more expensive purchases without having to take out expensive lines of credit. These might include the latest tech, commuter season tickets or annual leave purchase. These schemes also have the added benefit of providing savings on National Insurance contributions for both the employer and the company.
Here at Sodexo Engage we’ve been helping organisations support employee wellbeing for more than six decades. Our dedicated team of experts are best placed to support your business reduce workplace stress and reap the benefits of increased employee engagement, including
- Increased productivity
- Reduced staff churn
- Acquisition of your industry’s best talent
We won’t just prescribe a set list of employee benefits and rewards. We’ll work with you to identify your unique business challenges and deliver a programme of solutions that will solve them.
Ready to find out how we can help you? Get in touch today.