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Approaches to Reduce Stress-related Costs

The link between workplace stress and absenteeism, productivity, turnover, worker’s compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses has been well chronicled across the globe.

The link between workplace stress and absenteeism, productivity, turnover, worker’s compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses has been well chronicled across the globe. The World Health Organisation calls stress “the health epidemic of the 21st century.” In the UK, 13.7 million working days are lost each year due to work-related mental conditions including stress, depression and anxiety which are estimated to cost UK employers around £28.3 billion per year.1

According to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (SCMH symptoms such as poor concentration, low motivation and tiredness lead to less productivity, accounting for two-thirds of stress related costs, Mental illness at work may lead to a wide range of medical expenses. Medical doctors suggest that stress is the causative factor of illness underlying more than 70 percent of all visits to the family doctor. Even if most of these costs are covered by the public health system, some are borne by the organisation or the employee.

It’s unlikely these trends will improve. The “Great Recession” is over, but recovery has been slow and faltering. High levels of unemployment and job uncertainty remain; organisations are focused on driving productivity with a smaller workforce, and structural changes in the overall economy continue to affect workers across the globe.

A recent ComPsych survey of 2,500 employees across organizations of all sizes and industries, underscores this ongoing issue.  Nearly half reported moderate to severe stress, with 56 percent reporting they had difficulty focusing on tasks at work because of stress.

Rate your current stress level  
(high) 5 16.1%
4 33.1%
3 28.2%
2 12.5%
(low) 1 3.3%
How has Stress Impacted your work?  
Missed days 14.9%
Lateness 14.4%
Errors and / or missed deadlines 21.0%
Trouble getting along with coworkers / superiors 15.5%
Difficulty focusing on tasks 56.3%
Other 28.1%

A  framework for addressing the issue of stress and related costs was introduced by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Six standards were recommended, based on a landmark study conducted among British workers. The areas identified were subsequently validated with empirical evidence linking improvements in these six areas with reduced stress, absenteeism and accidents, and increases in productivity and job satisfaction.  The six Management Standards to evaluate are:
• Demands – workload, work patterns and working environment
• Control – how much say an individual has in the way they do their work
• Support – encouragement and resources provided by the company, managers and peers
• Relationships at work – establishment and promotion of positive working practices
• Role – clarity of understanding about an individual’s role within the company
• Change management – how change is managed and communicated within the organisation.

ComPsych also asked employees to rate their workplaces in the six areas that the Management Standards address. The results indicate there is still ample opportunity to impact standards that affect workplace stress.

  Poor       Excellent
Rate your workplace in the following areas 1 2 3 4 5
Work demands are reasonable 10.88% 18.19% 32.03% 26.02% 12.88%
I have sufficient individual control over my work 8.92% 15.03% 29.46% 29.98% 16.61%
I have adequate support from coworkers and superiors 10.93% 20.28% 27.45% 25.52% 15.82%
I have successful relationships at work 2.88% 7.25% 25.85% 38.17% 25.85%
My role in the organisation is clearly defined 10.74% 15.81% 27.77% 28.91% 16.77%
Change management is handled effectively 21.13% 22.89% 32.83% 14.52% 8.63%

Fortunately, employers do have tools that can be leveraged to address these common workplace stressors. Employee assistance programmes which include work-life services are proven to help reduce employee stress, decrease absenteeism and turnover, and improve productivity. In addition, EAPs have been shown to directly impact disability claims. A recent study revealed that employees utilising EAP services during behavioural disability leave were absent 17 fewer days, and were two times more likely to return to work than individuals not using EAP services.

David Campbell, senior vice president at ComPsych, points out that a well-designed EAP can be an early detector and preventive tool to use in addressing workplace stress. “We often think of EAPs today as a tool to deal with private stressors, such as relationships or substance abuse,” Campbell says. “But EAPs are also designed to directly impact workplace stressors that can result in costly treatment down the road.” 

In addition to expert clinical counselling for stressed workers, ComPsych HR consultants provide training and organisational support for stress and change management, performance and conflict issues, interpersonal skill building and as well as guidance on government regulatory compliance. Campbell concludes that “leveraging the full extent of your EAP capabilities to strategically integrate all behavioural, disability, absence management and medical programmes will give employers a clear advantage in addressing workplace stressors that we know directly impact costs.”

About ComPsych
ComPsych® is the world’s largest provider of employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and is the leading provider of fully integrated EAP, behavioural health, wellness, work-life, crisis intervention services and HR and absence management services under the GuidanceResources® brand. ComPsych provides services to more than 13,000 organisations covering more than 35 million individuals throughout the UK and more than 100 countries. By creating “Build-to-Suit” programmes, ComPsych helps employers attract and retain employees as well as improve employee productivity and performance.

1 Rory O’Neill, Background Document for TUC Conference on Stress, October 1996.

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