Under pressure

Stress can undermine productivity and erode employee wellbeing. Read our guide on how to beat anxiety and depression in the workplace.


Stress can undermine productivity and erode employee wellbeing. Read our guide on how to beat anxiety and depression in the workplace.

Stress can undermine productivity and erode employee wellbeing. Read our guide on how to beat anxiety and depression in the workplace.

Mental health charity Mind says that 10 per cent of employees have asked for support from their doctors for stress and health problems brought on by the recession, with 7 per cent turning to antidepressants. What’s more the cost to businesses is estimated at around £26 billion a year.

James Kenrick is a director at global consultancy Hewitt, which he says has cut average absence rates from six to 4.2 days a year since it undertook a health audit, saving £700,000 per annum. Policies introduced since the audit include absence recording, free fruit and a support and advice line for staff with health concerns. The firm also works with external health organisations.

‘We introduced a stress vocational rehabilitation programme, which is psychologist-led. We had an employee who was off work for a total of 90 days in the space of two years. The issues clearly weren’t being addressed. So he was signed off for four more weeks and had 12 sessions with a psychologist. When he returned to work he continued to have one-hour sessions. The total cost was £4,000, but 18 months later he hasn’t had one day’s absence,’ he says.

Quick wins

But the costs of maintaining a healthy workforce needn’t be high, maintains Anna Bird, policy officer at Mind. ‘There are lots of things employers can do to cut stress without having to spend too much money. Quite simply, make sure staff have reasonable breaks, that they are not working overly long hours and have a manageable workload.

‘Evidence also shows that staff who don’t understand their place in the company and how that contributes to the organisation’s objectives are prone to stress. So make sure you have proper employee engagement practices in place.’

Kelly Morgan, HR manager at TV shopping company QVC, rolled out a programme to educate line managers about the best way to recognise stress in staff, and says the key to managing the problem is spotting unusual behaviour patterns early on.
‘It’s easy to assume that because someone is underperforming they are not interested. But it’s all about exploring things that aren’t normal in the team. For example, someone who is bubbly and suddenly becomes quite subdued could be experiencing stress.’

Morgan is also bringing in a programme to help employees experiencing financial worries, with staff having admitted that this is one of the top reasons for anxiety. However, she says it’s important to remember that a degree of pressure is always going to be present in a busy company.

‘We do work in a fast-paced environment and that’s something we tell people when we’re recruiting them. It will affect most people from time to time. However, there is a difference between pressure and stress. And sometimes the only thing needed to tackle the problem is a conversation,’ she says.

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