What is Stress (And How Does It Affect Employee Wellbeing)?


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Work related stress is a growing concern and as well as having a huge impact on people’s health, it is a big problem for businesses. According to CIPD’s Absence Management Survey, stress is the leading cause of long-term absence.

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What is Stress (And Why Should You Improve Employe

Stress can show itself in many forms and can derive from varying situations. In some cases, a certain amount of stress can be perceived as a good thing, to push high performers to achieve their targets. And in many types of roles, stress is unavoidable – think about the daily requirements of a paramedic for example, or traders that take constant risks with huge amounts of money throughout their day.

However, for most people stress is an unwanted condition that can have a huge impact on their mental wellbeing. It can be work related or it can stem from an issue within their personal life. And sometimes it can be a combination of many different things. Whilst stress is difficult to completely prevent, knowing how to identify and manage stress is the next best thing.

What is stress?

Mental Health America states there are two types of stress:

Physical stress – caused by lack of sleep, poor diet, too much to do or another illness.

Mental stress – caused by worry or an emotionally devastating event such as the death of a spouse or being fired.

Both types of stress can have serious side effects, such as:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or anxious
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • An increase in headaches
  • Dizziness

How can you reduce stress and improve employee wellbeing?

When people suffer from stress within the workplace, this can have several consequences on both the individual and the business. For example, as detailed by the ILO, productivity can be reduced or the employee may need to take a significant period of time off work. Here are some tips on how to reduce stress and boost wellbeing:

1. Set up Health and Safety and Wellbeing policies

Employers have a big responsibility for protecting the wellbeing of their employees, particularly in terms of health and safety. And this is why health and safety policies can be greatly beneficial. These policies provide a framework that helps to protect employees from risks around the workplace. The employee benefits from feeling safe in their environment and the employer benefits from the productivity of the employee.

A wellbeing policy is another way of supporting and helping employees throughout their employment. This can range from providing support through a third party company that may offer services such as counselling, debt management advice and a desk assessment amongst many other services.

2. Support healthy lifestyle choices

Diet and exercise play instrumental roles in a person’s wellbeing and exercise is often used to help to reduce stress levels. As an employer, you can promote healthy lifestyle choices by providing discounts for gym memberships, cycle to work schemes, free fruit and healthy options in onsite restaurants.

3. Enable open conversations about wellbeing in work

When it comes to stress, many people tend to bottle up how they are feeling. They don’t feel like they can talk about it for a variety of reasons and in some scenarios may feel that it will harm their career. It may be that they don’t trust their manager to support them or even feel ashamed to admit that they are struggling. Creating an environment where people know that they can talk about their problems without the fear of negative consequences is really important.

So managers should try to spend time understanding people’s personal lives and get to know the person, so they can identify signs that they may need some help at some point, or to talk things through. When people feel the pressure of workloads, their productivity levels will drop so support, such as getting someone else to help with the work, can prevent the situation developing even further.

4. Use the available resources on work related stress

Research by Eastern Kentucky University identified that companies spend a staggering $300 billion per year on health care and missed work days as a direct result of stress. The accrued cost of stress is putting a big staring on businesses and so addressing this issue starts with the workplace. By reducing stress in the first instance, employees are able to be more productive whilst employers can save money.

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