In 2016/17, 12.5 million work days were lost to stress or stress-related illnesses with, on average, a stressed employee losing 24 work days per year and that all adds up. The financial cost of mental ill health to British business is an estimated £26 billion per annum; a tidy sum!
So who gets stressed, and why?
Anyone is susceptible to work-related stress, anxiety and depression but a new government report shows that women aged 35 to 44 and men aged 45 to 54 are the groups most likely to take a sick day due to work-related stress, anxiety of depression.
Some industries are more 'stressful' too, with the highest number of working days lost in healthcare, social work and public service industries.
Workload was given as the biggest trigger followed by difficulties with interpersonal relationships, such as a poor relationship with management.
Employers have a legal obligation to provide certain assistance to staff if their mental health issue amounts to a disability. But even if it isn't that severe, there is a clear financial incentive, if nothing else, to help staff who are experiencing any degree of stress. Studies show that happier staff with lower stress-levels are more productive, take fewer sick days and have higher retention rates (decreasing the associated new hire costs). A recent Kings College Study showed that an effective Stress Management Programmes could increase turnover by 24%.
Given the financial cost of stress to a business, it's worth trying to spot it, and sort it, early but that's not always easy.
ACAS have some guidelines of what to look out for.
Clearly, eliminating all stress from the workplace is impossible. In a work environment, there will inevitably be times when an employee has to work late, meet a deadline, hit a target or a face a challenge. But as managers, not only is it is worthwhile to establish a procedure to help a staff member who is stressed, there are things that can be done to help reduce stress levels in the first place.
Stress-reduction, or wellness programmes are increasingly targeting stress and mental illness in the workplace.
There are a variety of companies that can work with your staff to tailor programmes to your individual business (e.g. The Centre of Stress Management https://www.managingstress.com/ or Acorn Occupational Health http://www.acornoh.co.uk).
But if that is beyond your budget, something as simply considering the important of your staff's work-life balance, can help. Consider this letter by former US Vice President Joe Biden to his staff, back in November 2014.
“To my Wonderful Staff,” the letter begins,
“I would like to take a moment and make something clear to everyone. I do not expect nor do I want any of you to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work.
Family obligations include but are not limited to family birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, any religious ceremonies such as first communions and bar mitzvahs, graduations, and times of need such as illness or a loss in the family.
This is very important to me. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if I find out that you are working with me while missing important family responsibilities, it will disappoint me greatly. This has been an unwritten rule since my days in the senate. Thank you all for the hard work.”
The letter is a clear mission statement that sets out the workplace tone; family life is more important than work; it recognises the value of 'unplugging' from work; it highlights that a culture of overworking will not be supported, indeed it would be seen as 'disappointing'; it suggests a flexibility of working hours that can help mitigate the stress of a busy workload.
And that's just one letter.