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Stress In The Workplace

Revellers at this week’s Stony Means Business Network meeting were treated to a great talk by Steve McNey, Director of Milton Keynes Mind, the local mental health and wellbeing charity. MK Mind focus on issues that are specific to Milton Keynes, aiming to create a mentally healthy city …

look after your employees and they'll look after you

Steve spoke about workplace stress, which – with the pressures of today’s economic situation – is an ever growing challenge for both employees and employers alike. Stress can reduce the effectiveness of employees and lead to higher rates of absence and is therefore costly, especially for small firms where cover for sick employees is difficult to arrange.

Stress affects one in five of the working population from shop floor to board room and is now the single biggest cause of sickness in the UK; over 105 million days are lost to stress each year which is costing UK employers £1.24 billion.


As an employer, there are a number of things to consider:

  • You have a legal duty to manage Health & Safety, which includes stress and other mental health and wellbeing issues. Seeing it as such and treating it as a H&S issue is a good place to start (risk assessments, control measures, etc)

  • You may also feel an ethical responsibility to your employees but remember that everyone has a responsibility for tackling work related stress – you, your managers, your staff, staff reps, unions. Making it an everyday part of the work environment helps ensure it is addressed

  • Most employers underestimate the levels of work related stress or the level to which this affects employees

  • Positive management of mental health in the workplace is not just being a good boss, it makes good business sense. Mental health in the workplace costs employers over £25 billion each year (over £1000 for every employee in the country)

Let’s look at some likely causes of stress:

  • The type of work someone does: long hours, a heavy workload, infrequent breaks, boring tasks that don’t use their skills, poorly defined goals, too much responsibility

  • Feeling left out of decisions: not being involved in decision-making, poor communication, a lack of family-friendly policies

  • Receiving no help or support: a lack of support or help from co-workers and supervisors; people having conflicting expectations of them

  • Worries about job stability: job insecurity, a lack of opportunity for growth or advancement

  • Working in an unhealthy workplace: unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions, such as overcrowding, noise, air pollution or ergonomic problems

  • Workplace bullying is also a significant factor

  • And of course a myriad of personal challenges that affect someone’s world will also contribute

As a forward thinking employer, you will – I’m sure – agree that your staff are valuable assets and that addressing workplace stress is a positive thing. So what can you do?

  • Making it okay to talk about is a good first step; encourage your staff to feel comfortable in addressing health issues at work and together find positive ways forward

  • Consider the ‘warning signs’ that may suggest there is an issue; look at patterns in staff absences, consider stress symptoms, even enable staff to take online stress self assessments

  • Look more widely at the ways you work – there are certain issues that encourage higher stress levels and if you can manage these more effectively, that has to be a good thing!

  • You could team up with an external organisation offering Workplace Stress Management, Counselling or EAP’s (Employee Assistance Programmes) and activities that promote positive health and build resilience, team bonding and make your employees feel valued

You may also want to consider whether spending smaller amounts of money as a preventative step will save in the long term – British Telecom put in place a ‘Wellbeing at Work‘ programme. This involved training for managers, changes to how the company recruited, a ‘Passport to Health‘ scheme providing information to people and a corporate approach that said ‘“How can we support you”?’. The outcomes for BT (who employ 160,000 people) were:

  • 68% learned something new about ways to look after their Mental Health

  • 56% tried some of the recommendations and were continuing to practise them at the time of the follow-up

  • 51% had noticed improvements in their mental wellbeing

  • Sickness absence rates due to mental health problems fell by 30% in 4 years despite pressured market conditions

  • Ceasing pre-employment medical checks saved the company £400k per year

In our model of the world, it’s a simple equation: Make your people feel important, valued and part of something and you will reap the rewards …

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be adding blog posts about stress, its symptoms and how as an individual you can recognise the signs and take steps to relieve them – and ideally prevent them.

If you’d like further information about workplace stress or coping with mental health issues, take a look at the MK Mind website or call them on +44 (0) 1908 678540. And of course, if you’d like learn more about specific interventions for stress and related therapies – whether as an individual or a business – I’m happy to chat and maybe offer you some advice; you can take action and speak with me on +44 (07) 7932 060360 or email me.

Be outstanding …

FAZ COLBHIE