Why UK businesses need to See Stress Differently

Getting the right work-life balance can be tough, especially in the UK where employees work the longest hours out of any country in the EU, according to TUC analysis of OECD data. So it should come as no surprise that, with as many as eight in 10 Brits suffering from work-related stress, we are in the midst of a stress epidemic.

Why UK businesses need to See Stress Differently

Although it may be easy for an employer to shrug their shoulders and deem stress and mental health as a personal issue, it has a monumental impact on an individual’s performance and productivity at work. As a result, supporting the mental health and wellbeing of employees should be treated as a business priority, and it’s time for employers to take action.

That’s why we have launched our global campaign, See Stress Differently, which aims to raise awareness and encourage people to talk to their medical professional about stress, and help people create a clear plan to better manage stress and its side effects.

The state of stressed out Britain 

Work-related stress, anxiety or depression is estimated to account for more than half of all working days lost due to ill health in the UK. It causes companies to lose out on billions of pounds worth of productivity and disproportionately impacts smaller businesses and SMEs, which are more likely to feel the strain of staff absences.

According to our 360 Workplace Well-Being Survey 2019, while women tend to feel more stressed than men (79% women vs 66% men), it is the ‘sandwich’ generation – usually in their late 30s to early 50s – who feel the impact of stress more. Making up more than a quarter of the population in the UK and usually in key management positions at work, just under six in 10 report suffering from stress, with 13% finding it ‘unmanageable’. Juggling between bringing up kids, caring for elderly parents and holding down a job, this generation often bears huge responsibilities and with that comes the risk of immense stress.

What else causes workplace stress?

Although we may think we’re able to leave our personal issues at home, stress in the workplace is often caused by external factors. These can include a lack of sleep, financial concerns or health issues, but according to our research, working in an ‘always-on’ work culture was identified as a key driver of stress across all demographics, regardless of age or gender.

Out of the 22 countries and 13,000 people we surveyed, 64% of people around the world work in an ‘always on’ culture, which has a major impact on stress, and adversely affects both physical and mental wellbeing. Whilst some countries, such as France, have attempted to curb this by introducing legislation to effectively ban out of hours emails, the UK still has some way to go to effectively help employees cope with the pressures of daily life.

How can you tell if your colleagues are suffering from stress?

Employers can make a real difference in supporting their employees who are affected by stress, so it’s important to be able to recognise the tell-tale signs and symptoms.

Our survey showed that moodiness (40%) and fatigue (23%) were two of the top indicators in the UK. Crying and poor work performance are also signals, and stressed out employees also tend to be less engaged, motivated and consequently less productive at work. If you see one of your colleagues with one or more of these symptoms, you should try and talk with them or speak with a HR manager so they can discuss this directly. You can find out more tell-tale signs here.

What can employers do to help and what are the benefits?

Despite mental health awareness being at an all-time high in the UK, alarmingly our research showed that only just over a quarter (28%) of UK employers have a formal wellness programme in place to support employees.

Creating a well-run wellness programme instigates positive change in the workplace and can support an open dialogue amongst employees. Implementing an effective wellness programme requires a detailed understanding of key stress drivers inside and outside of the workplace, as well as support from senior management to make sure the right resources are made available to help it run efficiently and effectively. As our research shows, each demographic experience different stress triggers and employers need to be able to formulate and adapt their approach to make it work for everyone. One size doesn’t fit all and there are a range of technology and therapy-based solutions that businesses can offer to individuals who are experiencing stress.

However, one easy, simple step every employer can take is creating a caring and more open culture. Simply having a conversation about what’s going on in peoples’ lives can ease the burden of stress and is often the best first step to tackling the problem. It would also be helpful to ensure employees are provided with guidance on how to approach these conversations with their colleagues and have support information at hand to share, such as helpline numbers and web links.

Businesses that don’t have a wellbeing programme will be far more likely to experience higher rates of stress-related sickness, decreased staff morale and a reduced ability to retain and attract the top talent. With the obvious knock-on consequences to motivation, engagement and productivity, it is imperative that businesses do all they can to support their workers and to help them thrive and be as productive as possible.

Help make a change and See Stress Differently

As a nation, we need to do more to reduce the stigma of work-related stress and encourage people to open up when they are struggling with pressures in or out of the office. Stress should never be seen as a weakness; it can affect anyone at any level of an organisation and it doesn’t discriminate. It is therefore important that every employer helps tackle the avoidable causes of stress and encourage staff to seek help at the earliest opportunity if they begin to experience the negative effects of stress.

Every company has the responsibility and duty of care for its workers to create a culture that helps, not hinders employees. Our new white paper – Building a Whole Person Health Approach to Chronic Stress at Work – shares some practical top tips and advanced research looking at how to adopt a more open approach to healthcare that addresses the physical and mental wellbeing of your employees.

Let’s make a positive change and commit to helping everyone See Stress Differently today.

The author is Phil Austin, CEO, Cigna Europe.

This sponsored article is provided by Cigna Europe.

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