Counting the cost of stress at work
The Irish Health and Safety Authority defines work-related stress as 'stress caused or made worse by work'.
Employers that value and care for staff naturally want to minimize unhealthy stress. There is also a strong business case to do so. 82% of employees face increased stress (Mercer 2015) which is leading to reduced concentration, job satisfaction and productivity. It is estimated that up to 11 million work days are lost through absenteeism every year at a cost of €1.5bn to the Irish economy. ESRI research indicates that stress, anxiety, and depression (SAD) and musculo-skeletal disorders (MSD) together account for 68 percent of work-related illnesses.
Other research shows that engaged and healthy employees are, on average, up to 30 days more productive. Further, 6 out of 10 employees are more likely to give greater company loyalty to employers who demonstrate an interest in their wellbeing.
Staff can be stressed at work for many reasons - some of which will have nothing to do with work - a family bereavement, finances, ill-health of a loved one, relationship problems or simply because they don't know how to manage it effectively manage it. The list goes on.
'Work-induced or related stress' is naturally more significant from an employers' viewpoint but it all matters as it all affects health, performance and general wellbeing.
Common work place stresses include, workload, feelings of isolation, bullying, feelings of being overwhelmed by your job, deadlines, high expectations, lack of cooperation and support from management and colleagues, pressures related to promotion and unhealthy competition with colleagues.
Stress is part of growth and part of life. A bit of pressure is good as it drives us to be and do better. What pushes us into the unhealthy stress area is subjective and depends on each person. And if there is no recovery time or if staff have 'a lot going on outside of work ', they can be more easily overwhelmed.
With over 2 million people employed in Ireland, employers have a key role and opportunity to support healthy, happy, employees, families and communities. They also have a duty to protect their staff from potential injury and provide a safe environment in which to work. Part of this is to ensure each staff person has the necessary skills to do the job and is not under undue pressure. There is delegation and abdication.
With Ireland now in the top 10 countries worldwide for the percentage of the population affected by anxiety disorders (6.3%), according to the latest research from the World Health Organization (2017), the need for employers to help employees has never been greater.
Stress has bigger consequences than lost days at work. It sets a costly cycle in motion. When employees are stressed, they are less productive, less creative, less able to solve problems and more inclined to have difficulties in relationships. They will be totally unproductive if absent. Stressed staff are more likely to resign pushing up recruitment costs and putting more pressure on other staff to take on additional workload during a transition period and orient new people. Stressed staff also more likely to have accidents and get involved in litigation.
Unhealthy stress is contagious and is costing all of us. There are many ways in which we can learn to manage it more effectively and help others do the same. The costs of doing this are small compared to the benefits we all will reap and huge price we will pay if we don't in the short, medium and long-term in terms of health, wellbeing, happiness and output.