Stress, the Workplace & Productivity - Are You Managing it the Right Way Round?

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

Last year nearly 2/3rds (63%) of UK employees said they had stress in their job* and of those claiming to be experiencing high stress levels, more than half of them (57%) reported they were disengaged from their job.

Scary. It's not as if any of us are not aware that there is stress in the workplace and how, ironically, in an age of technology is revolutionising the way we work and supposedly 'making things more efficient and reducing workload', that we are working harder, for longer hours and citing ever-increasing stress levels and burn-out is becoming ever-more common. On the flip-side, stress is a part of the human condition and frankly some stress motivates us and spurs us into action. However much technology is driving our work places, employees, the most important asset are becoming suffocated, debilitated, losing motivation and productivity and becoming ill.

In another survey by Personal Group**, 48% of UK employees said they were unhappy at work, yet it also discovered that 'happy workers' were 12% more productive. Twelve per cent, that could make quite a significant difference to your innovation, delivery and ... bottom line where, just in the UK the productivity cost of £57 billion per year is attributed to high stress and lack of physical activity. That means an average of 23.5 productive days lost PER employee. ****

So, what's going wrong? Is there anything we can do to close this gap?

There have already been significant strides across many businesses to focus on employee wellness and to encourage physical fitness. However the data is indicating that people's needs are simply not being met in the workplace which is causing conflicts with home-life and their own drivers about what their life is about - and for the majority, it is not about simply being a cog in a wheel. It is no longer simply the responsibility of the employee to be resilient and 'man up' in the face of the organisational culture and the assumption that 'this is how it is', it passes to the businesses to seriously look at how their businesses, processes and approaches contribute to stress levels, employee engagement and therefore productivity. What factors then, can be examined?

  1. Culture, Communication & Management Styles - consider... employee engagement, humans need purpose do you know how much your employees understand where you are heading? Be honest about your culture, does bullying exist? How else can you give your staff more autonomy (a core human need proven to be a happiness and motivation factor) and purpose which in turn delivers greater productivity - and lower staff turnover. Are you willing to take a radical approach to your corporate management style and move away from the 'overseer' that doesn't trust the person will deliver without oversight, to greater flexiblity, for staff as the 'enabler' and the potential to create greater productivity? Some US companies have adopted 20% time - where employees are allowed to spend 20% of their time on any project they choose with the result of greater productivity and staff happiness.

  2. Employee Resilience - through coaching and business culture, giving team members the skills and resources to deal with stressful situations. This includes being able to report on and given the support to address unsustainable workloads, to working through blocks that might be limiting personal belief and application in work, to learning how to communicate better with colleagues and identify how your behaviour works with, or against others and how to deal with aggressive behaviours.

  3. Managing External Employee Needs Effectively - we are all human at the end of the day and what happens in our private lives, will in turn, affect our daily work life. An individual I spoke to recently, in charge of a team, was faced with a team member coming to him to talk and who broke down in tears because of what was going on in his life. The manager didn't know what to do. How do your managers and teams deal with such situations? Are they trained to help them balance what is happening with their work? Do you have a structure for someone staff can speak to?

  4. Goals & Reward Drivers - check out books like 'Drive' by Daniel Pink and how traditional approaches to goal-setting and motivation can have a negative effect on the intended results (carrot and stick approach). This includes targets and bonuses and would explain why I have worked alongside a lot of incredibly stressed sales people in my career! It also shows how short-termist goal-setting, that apart from simply raising pressure and stress in staff, it really does reveal its negative effect on shareholder value and the bottom line in the long-term.

There are a lot of thoughts here for consideration but from my own experience of having been a staffer and manager in businesses and experiencing burnout and illness, and seeing others go through it too; I know this is very real. Now, nearly a third of businesses reported an increase in stress-related absence last year***... and happy workers are 12% more productive, how would even a small percentage of that 12% affect your business and financial results for the better?

Alison Prangnell is a Stress Coach passionate about helping businesses and individuals identify how stress affects them, manage it more effectively and to be more successful.

*Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes Survey/ **The Business of Engagement Improving Productivity Through People /*** CIPD Absence Management Survey /**** Britains Healthiest Workplace - Mercer/RAND Europe/Vitality Health/University of Cambridge.

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