Scale of the issue
Latest figures (published October 2018) indicate that stress, anxiety and depression related absenteeism equates on average to 25.8 days per employee per year, 11.6% of a full time equivalent. Professional occupations were the area that was the most badly affected.
Given that the UK is already well down the list of nations for employee output this potentially avoidable loss has significant impact on employees, organisations and the nation.
Whilst ‘stress’ accounts for the largest proportion of all absence, absenteeism is only part of the story. Presenteeism presents a far more worrying and costly problem. The latest research shows that presenteeism, employees who are physically in work but not mentally performing at their best, accounts for a loss of productivity of at least 2 times (and possibly 4 times) that of absenteeism. The combined impact of absenteeism and presenteeism therefore represents over a quarter of the production capacity.
In the short term, that capacity is either lost altogether or partly mitigated by the additional efforts of, and extra pressure on, other employees, which may well then further contribute to future losses. This possibility is borne out by the slow but steady rise in the ‘stress’ figures over the past 5 years.
Stress and Stressors
It is important to differentiate between stress, the effect, and stressors, the cause. Stress is a natural reaction to a perceived excess of pressure, it can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (persisting over a period). The latter is more likely to lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Either way intervention is required to identify the root causes (stressors) so that they can be properly addressed, and recurrence prevented, thereby benefiting both the employer and the employees.
Reasons to tackle workplace stressors
Given the statistics above and the implications for productivity, this is an obvious reason to want to identify and remove or mitigate stressors in the workplace. In addition, there is of course H&S Law which requires all organisations to carry out stress risk assessments – this is a legal requirement and is enforceable by HSE.
A stress risk assessment, like safety risk assessments, essentially requires you to identify risk factors (in this case stressors) in your workplace, who might be harmed by them and to then put in place control measures to manage the risk. A comprehensive stress risk assessment will identify potential stressors and identify hotpots within your organisation. This enables targeted interventions to be put in place and means that precious budget can be allocated to where it is most needed and will have the greatest impact, ensuring that any interventions are cost-effective.
Whilst identifying stress risk factors and conducting a risk assessment will satisfy legal requirements in terms of compliance, it’s unlikely to maximise competitive advantage – you would just be doing what everyone must do legally.
So this brings us to the third reason – to gain competitive advantage. If we change the focus from avoiding loss or penalties to Creating Wellbeing™ then we can achieve so much more! When we create wellbeing within our workplaces the business benefits are well documented and include increased employee engagement, improved productivity, better recruitment and retention of staff and reduced absenteeism and presenteeism.
How to Create Wellbeing™
To Create Wellbeing™ organisations need to develop a comprehensive wellbeing strategy which goes beyond compliance (stress policy or mental health policy) to address not only what the organisation is doing to support individuals but what the organisation can do to proactively address wellbeing. Often this will mean looking at operational processes from a people perspective as well as a functional one.
To do this it is essential to have two types of data. Firstly where the stressors are in the organisation and secondly how the people exposed to them are equipped to deal with them. The latter means we need to understand an individual’s personality characteristics and stress tolerance level and hence how well they are matched to the jobs they do, as well as understanding the employees’ perception of the measures in place to mitigate any stressors.
Until recently this has been a laborious process, requiring separate tools and survey instruments. What we are seeing now is the emergence of specialised tools which combine all the functionality required to collect, analyse and present the data all in one place.
One such tool is StressFactor™ which can provide key data to inform strategic planning and continual improvement by:
- Identifying pressure hotspots in your organisation
- Assessing Psychosocial Risk in your organisation
- Addressing your legal requirements for undertaking Stress Risk Assessment
- Providing employees with individual personality and stress tolerance profiles
- Providing employers with aggregate data to support the design of effective reward packages
Find more information here.