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Stress: what’s causing it?
As human beings a certain amount of stress is good for us, as it pushes us to get things done and want to achieve more, but when stress is left unchecked this is where the problem begins.

The UK Mental Health Foundation reported last year that 32% of us find ourselves thinking about work in our personal time, a quarter of us compromise our health to get work done, and one fifth of us say that ‘powering through’ stress is part of our organisational culture.

It’s undeniable that work can cause excessive stress. Keeping clients, team-mates and bosses happy, not to mention remaining on track with any personal career goals, is a constant juggling act.

Many employees are also grappling with their place in a world of work undergoing rapid digitalization. Recent research suggests that Gen-Xers are feeling workplace stress most acutely due to concerns around their skil-lsets and job futures. Millennials, meanwhile, are far more worried about their sense of purpose and opportunities for growth.

On top of this, employees of all ages are struggling will stressors that spill over from their personal lives. Many have caring responsibilities for young children or older family members, while some are coping with physical or mental illness.

Add money worries to the mix, with younger people struggling to save and older people facing a receding retirement, and it’s no wonder that we’re encountering a stress epidemic.

What’s the impact?
The impacts of these stressors can be significant and wide-reaching.

Individuals experiencing stress undoubtedly suffer the most – stress, after all, can negatively impact mental health and encourage feelings of isolation. In fact, the Mental Health Foundation found that 51% of adults who felt stressed also reported feeling depressed, and 37% reported feeling lonely.

It stands to reason that someone experiencing these issues may see their ability to function at work compromised.

Left unchecked, this can have a ripple effect on the wider team, increasing the workload for other members, while decreasing their morale and productivity. If employees see a colleague struggling with little support, their perception of their employer will diminish. This could lead to employees feeling less invested in the work they are doing, and ultimately less loyal towards their company.

What may have begun as an issue with company culture, could easily snowball to negatively impact employee engagement, the organizations’ ability to attract and retain employees, and ultimately its business output.

How can employers help?
First and foremost, employers should consider their own culture and management practices. If employees are feeling stressed by work-related factors, the problem can often be solved here. Remedial action can range from reviewing whether there’s a perceived expectation to work outside of hours, to offering more training to managers on how to spot, communicate around, and deal with stress.

However, with workplace stress so inextricably linked to external factors, it’s also within employers’ best interests – and indeed their duty – to support their people in dealing with these.

In a bid to do so, we’re seeing employers establish evermore robust benefits packages, including emergency childcare and eldercare hours, access to 24/7 counselling, mindfulness apps and help financial planning.

To offer truly personalised support, some employers are going one step further and implementing dedicated wellness pots. These offer the ultimate in flexibility, enabling employees to spend their benefits allocation in a way that supports their own personal wellbeing – be this on a stress-busting boxing class or relaxing massage.

While offering this level of personalisation is great for employees, employers are equal beneficiaries. By delivering a scheme that their employees will really engage with and which is effective in helping them avoid and deal with stress, employers are also mitigating the damaging impact of this on their business.

Just because an issue is entrenched, it does not mean it’s not worth confronting. We need employers to challenge the stress culture in Britain – for the good of widespread health and happiness, and UK productivity.  

David Bourne, Head of Health and Wellbeing at Thomsons Online Benefits

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