What are the benefits of stress management in the workplace?
Thankfully, the benefits of stress management in the workplace are gradually becoming more widely recognised and implemented as part of workplace culture.
Companies of all sizes are beginning to understand that good mental health is essential for their employees’ health and wellbeing, but it’s also good financial business practice. According to research published by Great place to work, their ‘Stress and wellbeing at work: A European Outlook’ survey says:
‘In Europe, 52% of the companies surveyed had devised support measures for executives experiencing stress, albeit only 26% reported mechanisms in place to measure stress levels.’1
Benefits of less stress can range from reduced employee turnover, increased job satisfaction, and better engagement, leading to increased productivity and efficiency. Not to mention decreased absence and the reduction in long-term illness related to stress.
Happy and healthy employees are more present, motivated, productive plus, their long-term mental health prognosis is far more optimistic.
Companies choosing to be more proactive in preventing stress levels from rising at work are beginning to see the tangible benefits in both the long-term health of their employees and their bottom line. However, there is still much more that can be done.
How big is the problem of stress in the workplace?
In 2017, then UK Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Stevenson and Farmer to undertake a review of mental health in the workplace. It became the basis for the ‘Thriving at Work’ model we now see being implemented throughout companies in the UK.
Their research uncovered,
‘There is a large annual cost to employers of between £33 billion and £42 billion (with over half of the cost coming from presenteeism – when individuals are less productive due to poor mental health in work) with additional costs from sickness absence and staff turnover.’2
Where are we today with stress management?
Today, numbers are on the rise. Not least due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the issues that have emerged, including worries around finances, redundancy, furlough, trauma, becoming ill and rising levels of anxiety due to everyday pressures.
Most companies have experienced problems with absenteeism, presenteeism and the subsequent workplace issues related to them. And now, unsurprisingly, figures are on the rise again as work/life balance boundaries blur with the work from home initiatives, and the longer-term impact of Covid-19 begins to emerge.
According to a recent report from the CIPD,
‘Mental health-related absence is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in UK workplaces. Stress-related absence, in particular, has increased, with 37% of respondents to the CIPD and Simply Health, Health and wellbeing survey saying that stress-related absence had increased in the last year.’3
However, all is not lost. As individuals, we can do many things to protect our stress levels and long-term mental health. Equally, there are some great practices and initiatives that can be implemented in the workplace to manage stress and help us thrive, rather than simply survive in the workplace.
Businesses that prioritise stress management, mental health and support the positive working lives of their employees will reap the benefits in terms of happy and motivated company culture, while reducing the financial implications of stress and poor mental health problems.
Before we come to some of the ‘HOW’ to reduce stress in the workplace, let’s focus on the positive benefits of stress management.
What are the benefits of stress management in the workplace?
- Positive company culture.
First and foremost, if we have happy and healthy employees, the whole business thrives. It becomes a place of positivity where individuals at all levels of seniority can enjoy job satisfaction.
- Increased productivity.
When we feel good, we naturally have more energy. Stress can drain us of everything good, including our ability to keep going. So when we feel less pressure, we are willing and able to do more. As a result, our levels of productivity increase and we can do our jobs more efficiently.
- Improved engagement.
When our brain isn’t overloaded with information, we can think more clearly and become truly focused on individual tasks. As a result, our level of engagement increases because our brains aren’t clouded by negative thoughts or unwanted noise.
- Reduced employee turnover.
High employee turnover is a real problem for many companies, and it can often be directly linked to the stress levels employees are experiencing. Whether it’s due to poor management, workload or other mitigating factors, it’s disruptive and costly for companies to lose good people when it could have been prevented.
- Reduced absence.
According to a report published by the CIPD in November 2021, ‘work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounts for 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of working days lost in 2018/2019 (HSE,2019).
Companies willing to implement a structured yet easily accessible mental health training program for all employees will see improvements in absence figures. The Stevenson/Farmer Review discusses them in-depth, quoting the results individuals have experienced as a result
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have had very good experiences with three different employers…two major law firms, and a local authority. In every case, they dealt with me in a professional, supportive and careful way.” Michelle Passfield.2
- Reduced presenteeism.
Presenteeism is the loss of productivity due to an employees lack of engagement at work. They still turn up to work, but they aren’t fully engaged, and therefore work suffers as a result. Through a culture of fear and stigma, many employees are afraid that they will be penalised if they call in sick; however, presenteeism has the same impact. ‘As well as sickness absence, poor mental health at work can lead to increased staff turnover, reduced engagement and high presenteeism.’3
- Better long-term health, both physical and mental.
Prevention is best, but at the very least, managing stress in the workplace can go a long way to preventing the long-term effects of stress, including back issues, headaches, muscular problems and even cardiovascular disease. Helping our employees manage their workload, relax, and take time to breathe can go a long way to physical and mental health and wellbeing.
- Improved Communication.
One of the biggest benefits of stress management is communicating more effectively. Our businesses and our daily lives rely on effective communication, and when we are less stressed, we can take the time to think about what we want to say and HOW we want to say it. Our working life is improved, and our home life benefits too.
- Improved relationships
Better communication helps to build better relationships with our colleagues and associates. It can also be responsible for transforming customer relations, which increases loyatly, it’s a win, win.
- More attractive workplaces retain and attract employees.
Less stress helps create a great company culture that becomes enviable for prospective employees and helps to retain your top talent. Happy and productive employees will rave about your company as one that truly cares about its people and allows them to protect and strengthen their positive attitudes and good mental health.
How can companies quantify the benefits of stress management in the workplace?
Fortunately, the benefits of managing stress in the workplace to our emotional health and wellbeing aren’t in question, and we can begin to see that less stress will undoubtedly lead to better businesses. However, to convince companies that stress management is a priority right now and that they must invest in quality training and education for their people, it’s far more effective to quantify as a return on investment. So, how does it translate into financial benefits for companies?
Fortunately, Deloitte conducted a review on the ROI in mental health in the workplace and the results are staggering: The average return per £1 spent was £4.20 (with a range between 40p and £9).4
How do we start managing stress in the workplace?
Prevention of stress is always far better than finding a cure for it, mainly because once stress becomes overwhelming, it can manifest in many different ways. The long-term effects of stress can lead to a much worse diagnosis, including depression, anxiety, and more physical illness, including cardiovascular disease and immunity problems.
One of the biggest problems is the stigma attached to talking about stress and mental health. However, if companies take the lead and begin implementing effective training, education, and support networks companywide, employees will start to be less fearful of reprisals about speaking out.
Here are the first 5 steps to embracing the benefits of managing stress at work.
- Begin by starting open dialogues with your employees.
Create safe spaces where employees can share their worries and ask for regular feedback on what’s working and needed.
- Initiate a health and wellbeing program for all employees at every level to access.
Include proper training, education and frequent drop-in sessions for maintaining good mental health and keeping stress levels in the workplace low.
- Appoint mental health first aiders.
Train staff in the business to support their colleagues and provide a listening ear and points of reference for follow up care. Visit the Mental Health First Aid England website5
- Open and honest dialogue.
Let employees know they are valued and that there will be no stigma or reprisal for talking about their mental health. Stress does not discriminate, so creating more awareness and education will encourage others to step forward and get help.
- Improved work-life balance.
Offer more clarity to ensure people take a proper break from the office, such as limiting calls after normal working hours and discouraging working late for projects. Also, ensure they’re equipped to manage their time better if they work remotely or from home. There are balances to be struck, which will improve work/life balance and improve productivity and morale.
Many of us put on a brave face until it’s too late. Whether due to ambition, fear or simply a sense of loyalty to your work, we push ourselves to get the job done, but at what cost? However, it’s not only the cost to businesses at stake; it’s the cost of human life, emotional wellbeing and mental health. It’s important to remember; we are not robots; we are human beings who need to recharge, rest and reset for another day.
- Stress and Wellbeing at Work: A European Outlook
- Thriving at work: The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Mental health support for employees
- Chapter 4 of Thriving at work: The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers
- Mental health support for you or your organisation