Businesses saw high employee stress levels in 2012

Staff stress levels have been worsening among smaller businesses in recent times, research suggests.

Staff stress levels have been worsening among smaller businesses in recent times, research suggests.

Stress has had a noticeable impact on businesses in 2012, according to more than two fifths (42 per cent) of senior managers from small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) surveyed for global insurer Zurich’s latest quarterly SME Risk Index.

According to a fifth (19 per cent) of respondents, workforce absence levels have risen over the past two years, with 12 per cent reporting more short-term stress-related absences of less than four weeks in the last year.

More than 500 decision-makers from British SMEs were polled by YouGov for the Index, which indicates that the negative effect of stress levels, low morale and staff absence could be set to continue unless the economic environment improves. 

Almost a third (29 per cent) of SMEs polled state that these issues are having a negative impact on overall business performance.

Absence levels for the past two years are up by 27 per cent for small companies and 30 per cent for medium ones,  suggesting that the impact of stress on absence could be an increasing worry as businesses become larger and more established.

Some 25 per cent of SMEs surveyed also report lower morale among their employees due to workforce stress in 2012, with this again rising to 27 per cent and 39 per cent among small and medium businesses respectively.

With almost half (47 per cent) of UK SMEs claiming to face more risk at present compared to last year, the impact of such pressures on the small business workforce is becoming apparent.

However there is some optimism about the year ahead, with the prospect of a stronger economic environment (33 per cent) and expansion of business in the UK (29 per cent) being cited as a reason for business condidence in 2013.

Richard Coleman, Director of SME at Zurich Insurance says, ‘These figures are strong evidence that addressing workforce challenges and risks is an essential part of achieving better performance and greater growth for British small businesses. 

‘It is perhaps not surprising that the fragile business climate has had such an impact on workforce stress and morale, and if these issues aren’t addressed they could have serious long-term consequences for business stability and performance.’

Coleman adds that a company’s people are the lifeblood of any business, regardless of size, and looking after them by ensuring that stress levels are balanced and morale is kept high is vital if a company is going to attract the most skilled employees and retain existing talent. 

‘Companies that do this will be best positioned to take advantage of future improvements in the economic environment.’

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