Work-related stress and the key role employers can play

By VitalityHealth

Jul 25, 2018
  • Half of the employees surveyed through VitalityHealth’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace scheme reported at least one work-related stress issue.
  • Employees who feel stressed due to unrealistic demands are losing the equivalent of more than six days of productive time per year in ill-health related absence and presenteeism.
  • A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work in managing employees’ mental health.

Work-related stress, and indeed mental health in general, is increasingly becoming a key concern for employers. It is an issue which affects all organisations, regardless of size or sector. This has been further highlighted by Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, one of the UK’s largest workplace health and wellbeing studies, which surveyed over 160 employers, and 32,000 employees in 2017. More than half of the employees surveyed reported at least one work-related stress issue, with around a quarter reporting two or more, making it one of the most prevalent health issues facing the UK workforce. As well as its negative effects on the individuals affected, it is also an issue which has significant ramifications for organisational productivity, with research suggesting that employees who feel stressed due to being under unrealistic demands are, ironically, losing the equivalent of more than six days of productive time per year in ill-health related absence and presenteeism (under-performance while at work) due to this issue alone.

Compounding this, stress is a highly challenging issue for employers to tackle. The drivers vary and can be very different from employee to employee. These include feeling under unrealistic demands and pressures, a lack of consultation about change, lack of control over the tasks they are doing, and strained relationships with colleagues. Therefore a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work in managing employees’ mental health.

In addition, while progress has arguably been made in breaking down the stigma around mental health and wellbeing, attitudes remain complex. Many employees are reluctant to talk about mental health issues, particularly in the workplace. When asked as part of Britain’s Healthiest Workplace who they would discuss a mental health issue with, even the most popular option in the workplace – the line manager (with 36% indicating they would speak to them) - was significantly lower than the proportion who would choose to speak to family members (65%), a GP (62%) or friends (55%), with other workplace support structures such as colleagues, an onsite counsellor or an Employee Assistance programme being much less popular.

Even when the work environment may be an underlying cause of mental health issues such as stress, employees can be keen to keep these issues separate from their workplace, with the most likely reason that a perception exists that to disclose a mental health issue can damage prospects of promotion. This is supported by the fact that employees’ answers differed according to their level of income (and assumedly seniority) – the aversion to discussing mental health issues was magnified among more highly paid employees, who were far less likely to be willing to discuss mental health with their line manager or their colleagues, than their more junior counterparts. Interestingly, these employees were, on the other hand, more likely to use the official structures in place – for example an Employee Assistance Programme, indicating perhaps that they understand and value the confidentiality of this channel. The causes of stress also differ significantly depending on employees’ income. More highly paid employees in fact reported less stress than lower paid employees across all measures, with the exception of demand and pressures on their time. When this is considered alongside the fact that more junior employees tend to cite stress due to factors such as a lack of role clarity, lack of consultation about change, and a lack of control over the tasks they are doing at work, this suggests that perhaps a vicious cycle exists whereby many managers’ own responsibilities and demands are limiting their ability to manage the employees under them effectively, with negative knock-on impacts on team engagement, relationships and productivity. All this suggests that for employers seeking to mitigate the effects of stress in their workplace, effective line manager training in recognising and dealing with mental health issues, and indeed the assignment of increased importance to their role as a manager, may be effective places to start.

Perhaps the most important insight for employers to recognise when it comes to the management of work-related stress is that there is no single solution to the problem. No employee – or indeed organisation – is the same, and therefore responses need to be tailored to the specific risks and needs of a workforce. Vitality Insurance offer up to eight sessions of out-patient cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling per plan year as part of core cover to support your psychological wellbeing. This should be used as well as providing managers, and employees themselves with the skills and autonomy to deal with the causes of stress within their teams, to improve employees’ health, job satisfaction and productivity.

Vitality At Work helps to empower organisations to inspire positive behavioural change, with the approach being grounded in Vitality’s expertise in behavioural science and is supported by Britain’s Healthiest Workplace data. Vitality provide a range of mental wellbeing workshops, with our core services supporting specific health and wellbeing content and our optional services being designed to be tailored to your business size and plan type to further educate, engage and reward your employees.

For more information about Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, please follow this link and start making a change to employee wellbeing today.

Source: Britain’s Healthiest Workplace data 2017


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