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Stress in the workplace: The effects on your organisation & what you can do about it.

Published 24 September 2013

A special report for human resources and health & safety managers and directors.

We are all familiar with the headline statistics about stress and how it is now the most common cause of long term absence in the workplace. We may even have read that stress costs uk industry £1.24bn per year and 105 million lost days*.However, let’s face it, those statistics don’t really mean much at our own organisational level. It’s like listening to debates on the euro crisis, £30bn or £40bn, what does it mean to us?Many organisations only come across stress when they realise the cost of paying staff who have been off sick for some weeks. Other organisations wake up to stress when they receive notice of tribunal proceedings as one of their employees is taking legal action against them.

This report has been written to explain in simple terms, what you need know about managing stress in your workplace:-

  • Discover if you have a problem with stress – using information you already have,
  • Find out how much stress is costing you – with simple calculations using data already available,
  • Presenteeism – what is it and is it affecting your organisation?
  • Learn what you can do to reduce stress – without spending a fortune in time or money

Do you have a stress problem in your organisation?

Establishing if you have a stress problem in your organisation is more simple than you think. You don’t need to launch a huge project, speak to every member of staff and have them fill out pages of questionnaires. This will take months to complete, and will cost a lot of time and money.

You probably have much of the necessary data available to you now. All that is required is to appoint someone to look at the information with stress in mind.

Ask your nominated "stress monitor" to check through the following:

Absence figures - short term

  • If a member of staff is off sick frequently, albeit for only one or two days at a time, this is worth looking into to see if there are any underlying causes which may relate to stress.

Absence figures - long term

  • Gps do not always mention stress on the fit note, but stress maybe a factor in long term illness. Review the available information and see what comes up.

Return to work interviews

  • What do these records show? Are these interviews carried out for every absence? Do managers know what to ask to find out if stress is a factor in the absence?

Occupational health

  • What feedback are you getting from your occupational health provider? Make sure that you are communicating effectively with your provider and any potential cases of stress are picked up.

Managers raising concerns

  • Do your managers report any cases of stress to you? Line managers are best placed to notice if a member of staff is stressed, so they need to be reporting back to you, and accessing suitable support for the individual.

Conflict

  • Has there been an increase in conflict in the past year? A growth in the number of incidents of conflict is often a sign of rising stress levels. Are there any particular teams or departments identified in your data?

Appraisals

  • Do these show any information regarding potential cases of stress? Managers need to be fully trained so that they can discuss issues relating to stress in an effective way during appraisals

Presenteeism

Do your managers express concern about presenteeism? Do they know how to identify presenteeism? Would this be picked up in your current performance management structures? As you can see from the above list, you may already have a lot of information available. If you do not have all the necessary procedures in the place, now is the time to put them in. None of the above is too onerous in terms of time or money. Some training may be required for managers to enable them to understand what is expected of them and give them the skills to carry out their responsibilities effectively.

Getting everything in place is not about creating lots of unnecessary work, but about giving you the best chance of identifying cases of stress earlier and being able to take the appropriate action for the individual and the organisation.

How much is stress costing your organisation?

The cost of stress is also easier to calculate than you may think, and again you will probably have all the figures you need.

Using your absence figures relating to stress you can calculate lost time rate; which can be calculated for each team, department, employee etc.

Total absence (hours or days) in the period x 100 possible total (hours or days) in the period

You can then take the average salary in each team, department etc and calculate how much the lost time has cost .You May also want to add into the cost of absence the costs of temporary staff cover, management time relating to this absence, health insurance costs, lost production etc. You can make the calculation as simple or as comprehensive as you want to.

There are other calculations which you can do, for instance to find out how often your employees are taking sickness absence? And also who is taking short, frequent absences? A report last year from CIPD and simply health showed that the average level of absence was 7.7 days per year at median of £673 per employee per year. This works out at just over £5k per employee per year. It is important that you know the cost of absence in your organisation.

Presenteeism – what is it and is it affecting your organisation?

Presenteeism is when staff come in to work but are not performing at their best or the levels required by the organisation. Presenteeism can also be a result of stress in the workplace, and is currently more of a problem than absenteeism according to professor cary cooper, distinguished professor of organizational psychology and health at lancaster university, "sickness costs to employers were £8.4 billion in 2007, he said, but presenteeism cost employers £15.1 billion. "presenteeism rates are particularly high in the current economic climate, because staff are increasingly worried about job security. They are therefore coming into work when they perhaps would be better off at home getting better. For staff experiencing workplace stress, they will continue to be in work and exposed to the causes of their stress every day. This will build up bigger problems for them in the future. Unless they feel confident enough to speak up, they won’t get the help they need to resolve the situation. Research by thomas wright at kansas state university presented in 2009 shows that low levels of psychological wellbeing can affect productivity by between 10 – 25%.

So again, the question for you is "what does it mean to your business?". What if 1 in 4 of your employees was affected by low levels of psychological wellbeing or stress and their productivity dropped by 10 – 25%? How much would that cost your organisation? Again, use the figures you already have to calculate the cost.

As you can see there can be significant costs relating to stress, and you now know what these costs are for your own organisation. With this information you can assess any investment in reducing that stress against the current costs of the problem.

The legal bit – statute and case law

The beginning of the report mentioned the possibility of legal action being taken against your organisation. There have been some large settlements against employers where they have not taken stress sufficiently seriously and had the required policies and procedures in place.

This report is not going into great depth on the legal side of managing stress. It will highlight the main points, and show you where to get more information.

Statutory legal obligations

  • The health and safety at work act 1974 and management of health and safety at work regulations 1999 lay out the statutory legal obligations. There are obligations at all levels of the organisation.

Case law

There is a growing body of case law around the subject of stress in the workplace. One of the main principles that concerns employers is the question "was it foreseeable?", In relation to injury an employee may have suffered. If it was deemed foreseeable then the employer may have a case to answer.

You need to be sure that your organisation is not missing signs that would allow a "reasonable employer" to foresee that an employee is at risk of a stress related injury. The signs may be behavioural i.e. changes from normal behaviour for that person. Again, good management training is required so managers can understand the signs and take the appropriate action.

At the very least, if any of your employees tells their manager, you or occupational health that they are not coping, feeling under pressure or stressed, you must capture this information and take appropriate action.

So there are good financial, business and legal reasons to take action to reduce stress in your organisation.

Let’s now look at exactly what you can do. What can you do about stress in your organisation? What do you already have in place?

Review your current stress policy and procedures. Do you have these, and are they effectively implemented? Do they work in light of what you have read above? Do other policies i.e. managing absence, need to be up-dated?

What support do you already have?

Do you have a confidential counselling service, an employee assistance programme, or an occupational health provider? If so, how well are these interventions working in terms of identifying and managing stress?

How do you measure the results and evaluate their performance?

Create a culture where stress is acknowledged and discussed openly. Such a culture needs to be rooted in the day to day running of the business.

A good start is to ensure that the topic is included in the business' policies and procedures, making sure everything is in place to support stress management.

Include stress on meeting agendas – make stress a specific item within the health and safety or human resources reports at senior management level? Include discussions about stress in team meetings so staff can air concerns openly

Include a discussion about stress in appraisals and return to work interviews

Senior managers seen to be getting involved in the conversation – include articles in newsletters? Discuss stress in large group meetings? It is important to discuss stress in an open, non-judgmental way

Line managers – demonstrating behaviour which shows that stress can be discussed openly. Dealing sensitively and appropriately with staff who express concerns relating to stress

Managing staff off with stress sensitively and appropriately – including keeping in touch and managing communication with colleagues

Dealing with a staff’s return to work after stress leave – sensitively and appropriately

Provision of appropriate support – wellbeing and stress specialists

Flexible working options - do you have flexible working options available to all your employees? Professor cary cooper has found that ".... if you open flexible working to all employees rather than just parents, you will get £3.50 back for every pound spent. But if you restrict it to just parents the pay back will be half that."

Stress reduction and wellbeing program

This does not simply refer to a health promotion program, which may include the provision of gym membership and work based clubs. These programs are only part of an approach to address workplace stress. Wellbeing will vary for each employee, you need to find out what they need first, this may include changes to work-life balance, physical environment, career progression, challenges and relationships at work. Identifying individual needs can take time, and independent providers are well place for this, to save tying up management time. It is often the case that small, inexpensive changes to working hours and improving relationships can make all the difference, and stop difficult situations escalating into cases of stress

Establish effective communication

  • You need to be confident that any potential problems relating to stress are picked up as soon as possible. Are all your formal and informal lines of communication open and working effectively?

Conclusion

Stress is a potentially damaging issue for the individual and the organisation. Stress has become a subject which is often perceived as difficult to deal with. However, a simple, straightforward, inexpensive approach can be adopted to manage the risks and stress need not become a big issue.

Gold coach makes people better at work. We specialise in stress management and mediation in the workplace. We have a proven effective approach that reduces stress and so improves the performance of the business. Our clients include organisations in the public, private and third sector, and we work with those responsible for human resources,

Gold coach recognises the potential cost to business of stress. We work with clients to identify and reduce stress in their workplace, which may include carrying out stress audits and one-to-one support for the staff and managers.

*data from the health and safety executive 2010/11

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